UAE authorities are cracking down on piracy and the fake goods industry after it was revealed that counterfeit products are costing the Middle East economy Dh184 billion a year.
Dubai Customs and the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) have teamed up with police to create a multitask force to combat the trade in counterfeit goods.
In recent weeks several raids have been conducted on known outlets in the city and a conference in association with the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the World Customs Organisation hopes to bring the topic to the forefront.
The Fourth Global Congress on Counterfeiting and Piracy, being held in Dubai from February 3 to 5, will look at all aspects of counterfeiting and aims to make more people aware of what buying fakes actually means for business.
Sources at Dubai Police have revealed the extent to which illegal goods have become a burden on them and the economy, affecting businesses across the country. Abbas Abdullah Makki, Director of International Relations at the Dubai Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, said more than 700 containers of fake items were stopped from entering the country last year.
Although many regard counterfeit items as “harmless fakes”, the trade affects almost every part of daily life, including pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, aircraft and car parts, food, drink and consumer products.
Mahbooba Baquer Husain, manager of the intellectual property rights (IPR) section of Dubai Customs, told Emirates Business that customers must be aware of the negative impact buying counterfeit products has on society. She said: “We want to make people aware that buying these goods is not a victimless crime. The economy is suffering, workers who make the products are suffering, and in the end the consumer is left out of pocket and in some cases with items that are actually harmful.”
Makki also said the counterfeit market is a threat to genuine business. “Counterfeiting, piracy and smuggling affect the economy. From cosmetics to leather goods to food and electronics, fakes are big business for unscrupulous traders. But little do people know that these products harm not only the person who buys them but also have a huge global impact on the people who produce them around the world.
“The economic and social well-being of countries is at risk from this abuse and we are determined to ensure we play an active part in combating this trade.”
At Port Rashid, the heart of Dubai’s import business, customs officers are busy sorting through boxes of products; many are genuine but where there is suspicion something may not be what it seems, it is checked thoroughly.
“All our officers are experts in knowing if something is counterfeit. We are in close contact with our partners around the world and know immediately if something is heading our way,” said Makki. “High-risk destinations include the Subcontinent and the Far East.”
The department’s focus is awareness, and through seminars, leaflets and forums it is trying to spread the message to the business and retail community. “The message from us is do not trade with unscrupulous people and only buy the real thing,” said Makki.
The latest Gucci handbag, an iPod Nano, a gold Aigner watch encrusted with diamonds, haircare products, skincare creams, toiletries and a designer perfume lie displayed on a table.
This vast array of luxury goods are a popular buy for many image-conscious men and women across Dubai. Items come in all shapes and sizes, what customs officers have to do is keep an eye on anything that looks suspicious. “Mobile phones might look genuine enough, but when you look closely there could be a change in one letter, so Samsung becomes Samsang or Nokia becomes Nokla,” explained one customs officer who did not want to be named.
“Our job is to make sure nothing that is not genuine comes into Dubai. If it does end up in the markets it is then in the hands of police. But we feel very strongly that fakes – whatever they may be – are bad for business and the economy not just in Dubai and the UAE but worldwide.”
But it is not just residents who like to buy fake designer goods; tourists are often drawn here for that reason.
At a recent seminar, aimed at helping women educate themselves about what is real and what is not, participants were shown how to tell if an item was genuine or not.
Husain, who gives talks on how to tell a genuine product from a fake, said: “Sometimes it can be very hard to tell, but something that looks real enough could harm your skin, cause allergies, break and be faulty.”