E-commerce has unleashed an increasing torrent of fake merchandise upon the world and private companies and the US government must do more to address the problem, US President Donald Trump administration officials said on Friday as they released a plan aimed at cracking down on counterfeit goods.
An “action plan” released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says the government will apply increased scrutiny of e-commerce, including the third-party sellers who sell goods on the major online sites as well as shippers and operators of the warehouses where merchandise is stored.
It also calls on the e-commerce companies to strengthen protections for consumers, more thoroughly screen third-party sellers who use their sites and take other actions to reduce the spread of counterfeit products that has ballooned with growth of online sales in recent years.
“Some platforms have put in place certain measures to guard against counterfeits,” DHS acting secretary Chad Wolf said in releasing the plan, “but their efforts are oftentimes overwhelmed by the scale of the activity online.”
Fake merchandise, everything from bogus medicine to knockoff handbags, has always been around, but has never been so universally available with the growth of e-commerce through sites such as Amazon.com Inc, eBay Inc and the Chinese giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴).
The international trade in counterfeit products rose 154 percent, from US$200 billion in 2005 to US$509 billion in 2016, according to the OECD. DHS said in the report that it made nearly 34,000 seizures of fake goods in 2018, a 10-fold increase from 2000.
DHS considers the issue a threat to national security because of the potential danger to public health from adulterated pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as well as the harm to the US economy. Officials say the proceeds from counterfeit goods may also benefit global criminal networks.
“This is an absolute righteous threat that’s growing exponentially every single year,” Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner Mark Morgan said.
The plan was created in response to a presidential memo signed by Trump in April that called for the creation of a strategy to rein in what the administration called the “Wild West” of online trafficking in counterfeit goods.
In addition to increased scrutiny of the industry and enforcement, the plan says authorities will seek to apply fines and penalties to a “broader range” of participants in the counterfeit networks and launch a consumer awareness campaign.
Release of the plan follows the recent signing of the “phase 1” trade agreement with China, in which the Chinese government agreed to combat patent theft and counterfeit products.
At the time, Alibaba said it would welcome the administration’s work to combat counterfeiting. The company said it has developed systems to protect intellectual property and has worked with brand name companies, law enforcement, consumers and trade associations to battle the problem.
Amazon says it prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and welcomes more coordinated support from law enforcement to stem the problem.
The company said in 2018 that it spent more than US$400 million fighting counterfeit products, fraud and other forms of abuse and that its efforts “go well beyond” its obligations under US law.
The company said in a statement on Friday that this year it will begin reporting all confirmed counterfeiters that it has blocked to law enforcement so they can build cases against them.
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