Panama, Its Canal and Counterfeit Trade

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Panama is synonymous with its Canal and the Canal dominates much of the discussion in Panama, as I learnt at the International Trademark Association Leadership Meeting I recently attended in Panama City. One particularly interesting discussion that I participated in revolved around the trade in counterfeit goods through the Canal.

6.6 million containers, representing an estimated 5% of world trade, pass through the Panama Canal each year and the numbers will likely grow substantially when the present Canal expansion project is complete.

The share of counterfeit goods is thought to be around 2% of world trade (More on the magnitude of the global counterfeiting problem here (pdf)).

Based on these figures, a significant number of the ships passing through the Canal must be transporting counterfeit goods. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime works with customs authorities in Panama and elsewhere to maximise the chances of finding, stopping and seizing counterfeits. Information and intelligence from brand owners is of great assistance to their work. For example, with brand owner help popular routes for counterfeit goods coming from Asia can be identified, and are known currently to include shipments through the Canal to Jamaica, where goods are transhipped on to Belize, a small market of itself and as such one would assume of little interest in the battle to stop counterfeits, but the gateway to the much larger market of Mexico. So too, goods are shipped through the canal to Suriname, also a very small market, but from which it is relatively easy to access the market in neighbouring Brazil. With this kind of information, customs officials can better focus their efforts on inspecting shipments that meet the profiles of counterfeit trades and so target their resources where they will be most effective.

The fight against counterfeit is a global exercise not limited to Panama. The UK government has just published a report on China-South East Asia Anti-Counterfeiting. The report includes the following practical suggestions for brand owners worldwide wanting to take action against the problem of counterfeits:

  • Work with China Customs to record brands for counterfeit export seizures and to provide training
  • Gather data and information on the scale of counterfeit problems in South East Asia using IP enforcement databases
  • Record the barriers and difficulties in undertaking enforcement and share information with enforcement agencies
  • Press industry organizations to join in IP lobbying efforts, encourage more IP educational events and take part in more detailed economic impact studies

To this we would add the following:

  • Register trademarks and innovative design features to increase the enforcement possibilities available.
  • Take vigorous action to enforce IP rights against counterfeit producers and sellers.
  • Organise training for staff and distributors to raise awareness of counterfeit crimes and help spot counterfeits.
  • Promote awareness among customers, enlist their support in the fight against counterfeit and offer them tools or assistance to identify the genuine article.

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