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Nov 21, 2017

Customs on the Hunt for Counterfeit Goods

It has been a very busy few weeks for the Customs and Excise Department, at least in terms of training. First it was about trade facilitation two weeks ago; last week it was about immigration and border security. This week, the scene shifts to the Ramada Princess Hotel, where Belize and its Central American counterparts will be sniffing out counterfeit goods being brought to Belize. While it most often ends up as a civil matter, there are detrimental effects to the continuing appearance of ‘fakes’ in Belize, as News Five’s Aaron Humes reports.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

For the next three days, Customs officers from Belize and Central America will be taking a closer look at enforcement of intellectual property rights as it relates to counterfeit goods and piracy. But the enforcement regime, according to Comptroller of Customs and Excise Colin Griffith, is a collaborative effort with those who are being ripped off in the first place.

 

Colin Griffith

Colin Griffith, Comptroller, Customs and Excise Department

“It is a situation where [if] Belize Customs is of the opinion that the goods are suspicious, we communicate with the agents or the rights holders, and then they would come in and determine as to whether the goods are counterfeit or not. They would then have to indemnify the Government of Belize and the Customs Department against any action, because it would then move into a civil matter with them and the goods. So it’s not a Customs offense, but we recognize our responsibility and they ought to inform us that we should treat the goods as prohibited.”

 

Here to assist with plotting strategy on this issue is expert from the World Customs Organization, Sandra Wens.

 

Sandra Wens

Sandra Wens, IPR Technical Expert, World Customs Organization

“Counterfeiting is a global problem; we see it in every country, every country has its specific problem. We see that also in this region there are certain specific problems when it comes to certain goods, and it is important for the region that we work together, that there is good cooperation between the different customs organizations in the region to tackle the problem together. And by hosting this event, Belize clearly shows their intent to tackle the problem in the region.”

 

Presenting along with the Department’s legal counsel Tracey Sosa on the national legal mechanism for combating counterfeiting is Customs clerk in the investigation unit, Ronald Sanchez.

 

Ronald Sanchez

Ronald Sanchez, Customs and Excise Clerk II

“What we would do we would contact the rights holders in Belize, and they would then liaise with their counterparts in the U.S. or wherever the counterparts are, depending on the type of product, for example PUMA. The agencies over there would dictate to them on how we would proceed with the actual goods, whether it be destruction or take no action against the actual importer as such.”

 

But the bottom-line is that it is not a good idea for Belize to encourage such importations.

 

Colin Griffith

“What it does, the counterfeit goods displaces the genuine product, which in truth costs more and pays more duties. And it is the responsibility of the owners of the trademark to be proactive and work with Customs, because as I mentioned, if they don’t act, then we can’t do anything apart from holding the goods for a reasonable period of time and then we would have to release it. Because it is not a criminal offence where Customs is concerned; it is a civil matter between the owners of the trade mark and the importers.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

The workshop continues through Friday, including a practical field visit.

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