Designed to defraud and deceive, counterfeit products pose a threat to European citizens and the European economy. Counterfeits’ inferior quality raises significant health and safety concerns, and their fraudulent business model puts thousands of jobs in jeopardy. In an interview with E&I Magazine, European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani discusses the Commission’s EU-wide anti-counterfeit campaign and why fake products require real action.
E&I: Why are you so engaged in the fight against counterfeits?
Tajani: The spread of counterfeit goods is a major obstacle to economic growth. These fake goods, which mimic legitimate items but cost a fraction of the price, are harming legitimate enterprises and increasing unemployment. The United Nations has estimated that the annual volume of trade in counterfeit goods is more than €200 billion worldwide, a number comparable to the illegal drug trade. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), on which the European economy heavily depends for new jobs, are particularly susceptible because they have less power to avoid counterfeiting. For all these reasons, the European Commission launched the ‘Stop Fakes’ campaign, which is designed to foster collaboration between different European and national authorities in the fight against counterfeit items.
E&I: What are the most counterfeited goods?
Tajani: Counterfeiting spans a multitude of sectors: medicines, fashion, food, automotive parts, electrical appliances, cosmetics and our children's toys, to name but a few. There is no simple, easy solution, which is why ‘Stop Fakes’ is a pan-European effort that transcends national and sectoral boundaries.
E&I: What industries are particularly vulnerable to counterfeiting?
Tajani: The fashion industry is among the most vulnerable. Fashion goods are responsible for 60 % of all counterfeit cases recorded by EU customs, and the knock-on effects are enormous. The industry supports nearly 850 000 companies, the majority of which are SMEs, and accounts for 3 % of the EU's GDP. Between design, manufacturing, logistics and retail, the fashion industry provides employment for more than 5 million people. As the world’s fashion leader, Europe has the most to lose from counterfeited fashion products.
E&I: How do counterfeit products pose a risk to health and safety?
Tajani: While everyone loves a bargain, counterfeits can quickly become unusable or defective. They can be manufactured without due regard for European health and safety standards and simply cannot be trusted. Products that could be potentially dangerous to the health and safety of consumers accounted for 28.6 % of the total amount of confiscated articles in 2011, compared to 14.5 % in 2010. One particularly hazardous example is fake car parts, which pose a substantial safety risk not only to those who were tricked into buying them, but to all drivers sharing the road with vehicles that rely on shoddy parts.
E&I: What impact does counterfeiting have on jobs?
Tajani: The companies making original products are also the ones making related investments in research and innovation. Counterfeit items that copy originals cause declining sales and profits, eventually translating into job losses. Counterfeiters also avoid paying taxes or duties, curtailing state revenues and passing the bill to European taxpayers.
E&I: How do fake goods discourage innovation?
Tajani: The European economy has grown decade after decade based on a virtuous principle – that those who invent or create something are entitled to the legal protection of intellectual property rights. Individuals and companies will invest their time and money to develop new products only if they are assured of adequate protection. The fight against counterfeit goods is therefore fundamental for the EU economy and represents a key factor for success inresearch, innovation and generating employment.
E&I: Who can help fight counterfeiting?
Tajani: National authorities play a key role in preventing the entry of counterfeit goods to the EU. The European Commission is working with them on a series of actions to strengthen their capacity to combat trafficking. In February 2013, the Commission proposed to further strengthen market surveillance through a multi-annual plan and a single legislative instrument that will reinforce the controls on products in the internal market, allowing authorities to immediately withdraw non-compliant and dangerous products. This regulation will be directly applicable and binding in all Member States.
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