CDs, DVDs, MP3 players and games consoles were among the two million counterfeit products seized by European Union customs officers as part of the Operation FAKE campaign, officials said today (Nov. 8).
The initiative was a pioneering exercise involving the customs authorities of all 25 EU countries and the European Commission, the EU’s executive authority. Coordinated by the Commission’s tax and customs department and its anti-fraud office, the operation involved more than 250 customs officers seizing 140 air consignments and 60 containers.
Operation Fake took place over ten days in May and generated almost 500 tons of fake goods, the Commission said.
EU customs commissioner László Kovács said the operation showed how the different EU and national authorities could work successfully to fight international organized crime. “Unfortunately, this enormous exercise has also confirmed the extent of the problem of counterfeit and piracy,” he said.
Kovács said only suspect consignments were targeted, but the results were impressive: of the 362 containers pre-selected for surveillance, almost one in four actually contained counterfeit goods. This contrasts with a detection rate of just 1-4% in routine customs checks.
Given that 70% of counterfeit goods entering the EU come from China, Kovács said his priority will be to boost co-operation with Beijing. But he said he also wants to sign co-operation agreements with other countries in the South East Asia region.
Trade in counterfeit goods is a fast growing problem around the world, accounting up to 9% of global trade and costing up to €300 billion ($352 billion) a year to legitimate businesses, the Commission said. Seizures by European customs officers rose ten-fold from 1998 to 2004.
The announcement comes four days after EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson called on visiting Chinese trade minister Bo Xilai to clamp down on piracy.
It comes two weeks after police in Spain dismantled a syndicate believed to be responsible for releasing more than one million pirate music and film discs every month into the Spanish market.
Separately, the Commission sent letters to Bulgaria and Romania last week urging them to address counterfeiting, border enforcement and corruption if they are to join the EU in 2007 as scheduled. The warning letters reiterated “serious concerns” over their progress on reforms, calling on them to strengthen the rule of law and improve public administrations.
The Commission says it will closely monitor their progress and review developments in about six months, and could push back either country’s entry until 2008 if they are clearly unready to join.
Industry trade body the IFPI says CD and DVD plants are still found producing illegal discs in Bulgaria, which recently adopted a relatively weak optical disc law. It also wants the Bulgarian government to improve its copyright law.