x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE officials win Asian help to fight trade in bogus brands

Customs officials and brand managers have signed an agreement with their Asian counterparts to work more closely together to stop the trade in fake products.

DUBAI // Customs officials and brand managers have signed an agreement with their Asian counterparts to work more closely together to stop the trade in fake products. The Dubai-based Brand Owners Protection Group (BPG), including Nestlé, British American Tobacco, BMW, Nokia and Estée Lauder, signed the deal with Dubai Customs and anti-counterfeiting bodies from China and Japan. It formalises existing relations between the organisations and commits them to working more closely together.

The trade in fakes was estimated by the Ministry of Economy last year to be worth US$500m (Dh1.8bn) annually. More than half the bogus products were believed to come from South-east Asia and China. "Counterfeiting can never be eliminated, but it can be limited," said Khalid Babiker el Nour, from the legal affairs department of Dubai Customs. "And we are trying to do that with help from other organisations. It is a serious problem that harms the economy and puts money in the pockets of criminals."

The deal was signed for China by the Quality Brands Protection Committee, and for Japan by the International Intellectual Property Protection Forum. Jack Chan, from the Chinese group, said there were also significant problems in stopping counterfeiting in his country. "The level of enforcement depends on where you are in China; in Shanghai, on the coast where many goods leave from, they are very strict, but further inland it is not seen as so much of a problem," he said.

"The customs authorities and police are very keen to help, but the penalties do not tend to be very high." Mr Chan advocated working with the courts to persuade them that counterfeiting is a serious crime. Omar Shteiwi, chairman of the board of the BPG, said it was vital to involve foreign law enforcement authorities and companies to tackle the international trade in fakes. "It is not a Dubai problem or a Chinese problem," he said. "It is worldwide, and what we are doing here is combining our efforts."

In Dubai, once counterfeit goods slip past customs, they become the responsibility of the police and the Department of Economic Development. Abdullah Shahi, its head of commercial protection, acknowledged there were still legal difficulties in tackling a trade that is relatively open in many parts of Dubai. "In most cases we need the brand owner whose trademark is being infringed to come forward and make a complaint before we can act," he said, "although we do raid shops that have a previous record of selling counterfeits, carry out automatic inspections and seize any fake goods that are there."

gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae