EU and US step up fight against counterfeiters, importers

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Intellectual property, European union

EU and US officials will take joint action worldwide against
counterfeiting and intellectual property theft, an illegal trade
that includes millions of items of fake foodstuffs and drinks.

A joint agreement on the issue, steping up the fight against global counterfeiting, was signed by US president George Bush and Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso at a summit held in Vienna on 21 June.

It includes plans to "strongly" increase collaboration with industry sectors in a bid to stem the flow.

Counterfeiting and tampering can undermine consumers trust in the quality and safety of a branded food product, leading to a loss in market share. In response some companies have turned to new forms of packaging and intelligent labelling to ensure consumers and customs can check for authenticity.

The private sector, through organisations such as Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union (CIAA), has consistently advocated improved intellectual property protection as the key to EU competitiveness.

Under the agreement's terms, the two will aim at closer co-operation through strengthening border controls, shared intelligence and forming special teams of embassy staff to search out counterfeiters.

The initial efforts of the joint programme will focus on China and Russia. EU and US representative say they also have major concerns in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The programme aims to help emerging markets reinforce their own efforts to tackle intellectual property theft, according to a statement issued about the meeting.

The European Commission's vice president with responsibility for industry, Günter Verheugen, said the bloc's companies were being hampered in counterfeits with rock-bottom prices and low quality.

" The only way forward is innovation, invention and quality,"​ he said in a statement before the summit. "When ideas or brands and products are pirated, ripped-off and counterfeited, this strategy is doomed. This is why the EU and the US have joined forces to combat the pirating of products in a more effective way."

The key proposals include commitments to closer customs co-operation including joint border enforcement actions. The joint enforcement agreement will include the creation of teams of EU and US diplomats in third country embassies specially tasked with data and intelligence sharing and surveillance responsibilities.

Lipton, Coca Cola and Nestle products topped the list of faked food and drink items seized at the EU's borders in 2004, the latest figures available from the European Commission. The Commission announced new measures last year to crack down on the problem across all industry sectors .

The number of counterfeit items seized at EU borders has increased by more than 1000 per cent between 1998 and 2004, rising to over 103m in 2004 from 10m items in 1998. In the 1980s, 70 per cent of counterfeiting related to the luxury market.

In 2004, about 4.4 million items of fake foodstuffs and drinks were seized at the EU's borders, a growth of about 200 per cent since 1998.

While cigarettes and children's toys topped the lists of seized goods in 2004, fake food, along with pharmaceuticals are a particular problem because of the potential impact such items can an have on human health.

Counterfeiting affects almost every area of industrial manufacturing: including fake airplane parts, car parts, electrical appliances, medicines and toys. The higher quality of counterfeits is making detection more difficult.

The trade in counterfeit medicines is also growing fast: it accounted for about 10 per cent of the world trade in medicines during 2004. Last year 800,000 fake medicines were seized at European borders. Most of these fake drugs are headed for the world's poorest countries.

To address the problems the Commission says it will begin working on a set of cross-sectoral policies. An intellectual property rights and counterfeiting policy to start this year will crack down on imports of counterfeit products.

"The joint strategy is an important reinforcement of the global fight against counterfeiting and intellectual property theft"​ the Commission stated in a press release. "It is the first EU-US joint enforcement programme of its kind."

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