Part 6: The Role of The Consumer in Curtailing Illicit Trade

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

Many times when we discuss illicit trade we focus on the authorities and their roles and shortcomings. However, what role can each individual play in reducing illicit trade? Let us first remind ourselves about the activity of illicit trade.

Goods are traded illicitly mainly in two ways as follows:

  1. Genuine products are manufactured by the authorised manufacturer and then shipped through illegitimate channels for resale. This results in duties being evaded and the products being sold for artificially lower market prices
  2. Counterfeit products (that appear to be genuine) are manufactured by unauthorised persons. These products are then sold as if they are the original products. The prices may be lower or competitively close to the genuine product.

In many conversations on reducing illicit trade, attention is placed on law enforcement and regulatory agencies. Organizations such as the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), the Customs and Excise Division, The Bureau of Standards, the Tobacco Control Unit and others are frequently mentioned. While these agencies do have a role to play, unless we the consumers make some deliberate changes to our buying habits the battle will be lost. Today we focus on the role of the consumer in reducing illicit trade.

We Need To Understand Illicit Trade

As law abiding citizens it should concern us that supporting illicitly traded goods can provide support to international criminal networks. The profits derived from these goods usually fund a wide range of criminal activities. The work of Interpol in this area is widely reported at https://www.interpol.int/Crimes/Illicit-goods/Illicit-goods-the-issues. Therefore when you purchase a fake brand you must understand that you are unwittingly supporting international crime. Once you appreciate this, you should discontinue the practice and encourage your friends and family to do the same. However, you also need to go further and report the item and the seller to the authorities for action.

Understand How You are Personally Affected

When you purchase cigarettes that you suspect may be illicit you could be using a product that has been manufactured in unsanitary surroundings. Similarly, pharmaceuticals suspected of being illicit can do you much more harm than good. In December 2019 for example, the Chemistry Food and Drug Division of The Ministry of Health reported an alleged find of counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Trinidad. To protect your health and that of the public therefore you must refrain from purchasing items suspected of being fake and report the sellers.

Understand How Businesses Are Affected

Businesses provide products and services but to continue doing so effectively, these activities must be done profitably. From the profits, business owners can continue to offer the products and services and expand these where it is appropriate. Intimately linked to the business is the remuneration of the employees who participate in the production process. When we purchase counterfeit goods we reduce the profitability of legitimate businesses making it more difficult for them to operate and for persons to remain in productive employment. By supporting illicit trade you therefore also contribute to the weakening of legitimate businesses.

Today we are therefore suggesting that you the consumer play an active role in reducing illicit trade by not purchasing these products. While the online world will continue to be ahead of the manufacturers and the regulatory agencies, it becomes even more important for the consumer to play his or her part.

We also speak today to those companies that routinely and knowingly purchase counterfeit goods for resale. We encourage you to consider the harm such self-serving action is bringing to our country and challenge you to develop a business model that does not include illicitly traded goods.

The law enforcement agencies have been working and have had some important successes. In a recent exercise that included the CID Multi-Agency Task Force and the Customs and Excise Enforcement Division, eight supermarkets were visited. This led to the seizure of 711 bottles of illicitly traded alcoholic beverages and 3,747 packs of illicitly traded cigarettes. It is expected that this type of action will continue.

As a member of the public, you can report suspected illicitly traded items and incidents to the Chemistry Food and Drug Division, Customs and Excise Division, the Bureau of Standards, the Intellectual Property Office, the TTPS and other agencies.

Crime Stoppers is also playing its part in reducing illicit trade as we encourage persons with information to report anonymously. Our hotlines at 800-TIPS are available 24 hours daily. Do you know of a shipment of pharmaceuticals that appears suspicious? These may be illicitly traded items. What about tobacco? Do you know of cigarettes that are being sold very cheaply or of containers that are entering our country without payment of the required taxes? Do you suspect that the branded goods being traded may be fake brands? All these items can be reported anonymously to Crime Stoppers so law enforcement can then act.

Unmask Illicit Trade NOW!

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