Counterfeit Trade

January 24, 2017

The spread of counterfeit products has increased globally in recent years. Counterfeiting is everywhere – it can affect what we eat, what we watch, what medicines we take and what we wear.

Counterfeiting and piracy is also seen in Fiji whether its electronic goods, spare parts, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, alcohol, chemicals, bags, movies or music.

Counterfeit goods are often of inferior quality, made or sold under someone else’s brand name without the brand owner’s knowledge or authorization. Traders of such goods can be said to infringe on either the trade mark, patent or copyright of the brand owner by passing off its goods as if it was made by the brand owner.

A major challenge for consumer protection agencies is to weaken the demand for counterfeit goods. This is a serious challenge in Fiji given that many genuine imported goods are priced beyond the reach of most consumers. The desire to own new products and prominent brands drives Fijians to buy fake or unauthorised replicas that appear to be real.

Traders take advantage of the gullibility of consumers by selling counterfeit products that are either close to or much lower than the price of the genuine item. When the price is high, consumers may assume the product is genuine, as “expensive” is often perceived as an indicator of authenticity and quality.

Counterfeit trade has evolved to a point where almost if not all commodities are likely targets. These include commodities that can have a direct effect on the health and safety of people and economy.

Counterfeiting products that endanger lives, for example are auto parts that fail, toys that harm children, pharmaceuticals that make people sick, baby formula that provides no nourishment and medical instruments that deliver false readings. Even purchases like safety goggles, safety shoes or electrical plugs that have been illegally copied and reproduced present significant risks, given their lower quality.

Counterfeiters have taken advantage of the legitimate global trading environment totally driven by sheer greed to make money at any cost. 

Even the e-commerce giant, such as Alibaba and Amazon are struggling to stop traders from selling counterfeit and fake products on their online platform. It is not just an issue of unscrupulous companies’ marketing tactics, but it is also an issue of enforcement and adequate resources.

During back to school sale, the Council’s spot check in stores around Suva, found replicas of Adidas, Rip Curl, Quicksilver, Nike, Billabong school bags and backpacks sold openly in the marketplace at high prices.

Consumers can spot counterfeit bags by inspecting the packaging carefully. Spelling or grammatical errors are common on the packaging of counterfeit goods. One has to look carefully at the logo and its quality. Counterfeits will usually have different fonts or sizes and slightly different colours.

Recently, a complainant bought a Samsung S7 phone in a box from a mobile phone retailer in Suva. He was strictly advised by the trader not to open the phone back cover because it can only be opened by the trader’s technician. After a few days, problem started with the phone.  The complainant then opened the phone cover and found a lot of sticking plaster and electric wires. He also found that the battery was not labeled as Samsung brand. The complainant was very disappointed when the trader refused to give redress.  Complainant brought the matter forward to the Council’s attention. 

Counterfeit and pirated products which were previously distributed through informal markets, appear on the shelves of established shops in Fiji. If this is not addressed, it will be a huge risk to consumer’s health and safety.

Traders need to know that selling counterfeit goods is an offence under Section 77(1) (a) of the Commerce Commission Act 2010. The provision states: “A person shall not, in trade or commerce, in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connection with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services falsely represent that goods are of a particular standard, quality, grade, composition, style or model or have had a particular history or particular previous use which they do not have”.

Although counterfeit goods have found a ready market in Fiji, standards, enhanced consumer protection laws, good market surveillance programmes, agency cooperation and strong border controls can protect consumers against such unscrupulous trade.

The Council is urging consumers to be vigilant whilst shopping. They can call the National Consumer Helpline toll-free number 155 to seek advice or to lodge any complaints against traders who are found selling counterfeit products. Consumers can also seek assistance from Fiji Commerce Commission in relation to their grievances.