Some experts have called for collaboration between the public and private sectors to combat illicit trade caused by COVID–19 pandemic across the globe.
The experts gave the advice during a webinar organised by The Economist (an international weekly newspaper) and sponsored by Japan Tobacco International.
The event which was moderated by Christopher Clague, the Managing Editor, Asia and Global Lead Trade and Globalisation, at the Economist Intelligence Unit, had as its theme “Global Illicit Trade: Profiteering from Pandemic”.
They said that illicit trade had increased drastically across the globe due to movement restrictions, high demand for pharmaceutical products and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
According to them, the increase in demand for this products is as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
They said it increased the production of counterfeit goods by criminals across the globe.
Speaking on measures to combat illicit trade, Ian Monteith, Global Senior Director of Anti-Illegal Trade at Japan Tobacco International, (JTI) said: ”there is the need for private and public sector partnership to combat illicit trade globally.”
He said that it was important to protect revenues for governments and the society, so that they could use it to implement different programmes that were beneficial within their jurisdictions.
“The big issue is once illegal trade takes over, most taxes will not be paid and it becomes difficult for governments and law enforcement agencies to fight the menace once it gets a foothold in the society.
“Illegal trade is not a victimless crime, it is actually hurting societies where they are most dominant,” he said.
Monteith said that a partnership-controlled approach with governments, law enforcement agencies, private sector and society was needed to tackle illicit trade.
He said that the private sector was the lifeblood of law enforcement, adding that they would assist in providing quality intelligence and forensic analysis to initiate thorough investigation on illegal trading.
Monteith said there was also the need to educate citizens on illegal trading, adding that it would help create awareness that there were consequences for any criminal action.
He said that aside from partnership, coordination and collaboration approach, national and international measures should also be introduced as criminals had no boundaries and would exploit anything to make money.
“Actions need to be taken to combat illicit trade because the profit these criminals make do not benefit the society and that is what makes it dangerous.
“As a result of the pandemic, people no longer have the purchasing power they used to have and that is going to drive them towards cheaper goods ranging from car parts, health products, tobacco and electrical appliances among others.
“To address this issue industries and law enforcement agencies must work together,” he said.
Speaking on how the pandemic had increased criminal activities, Paul Stanfield, Director of Organised and Emerging Crime, INTERPOL, said that COVID-19 had changed the nature of illicit trade across the globe.
He said that the restriction of movement was forcing criminals to go online and commit massive amounts of fraudulent activities.
“Criminals have taken advantage of the situation by becoming more internet savvy and that is why we see a lot of the criminal activities going on online because of restrictions.
“Criminals are very quick to adapt. They are motivated primarily by making money,” he said.
Stanfield said that the high demand for PPE, medical goods and pharmaceuticals had given criminals the opportunity to produce counterfeit goods for the masses.
“The rise in illicit trade is a significant problem across the world.
” And with the priority of police being on public safety, their attention is drifted toward safety elements, therefore, there is less opportunity to tackle some of these new and emerging threats.
“The pandemic has changed how law enforcement agencies manage resources being allotted.
“They are learning how to shift around resources to where it is most needed,” Stanfield said.
Also, János Bertók, the Acting Director at Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Public Governance Directorate, said that the pandemic had affected global trade environment drastically.
He said that it had caused both government and the private sectors billions of dollars on jobs and quality of services among others.
“Quantifiable trends show that the global trade of counterfeits is increasing, recent data also indicates that over half a trillion United States dollars or three per cent of global trade is counterfeit, this is enormous.
“This does not only impact the economy but also raises serious safety issues, health issues and sales of fake pharmaceuticals containing dangerous ingredients.
“New evidence released just two months ago, estimates the total value of counterfeit for pharmaceuticals to four billion Euros.
” The data analysed and quantified shows that the most frequently encountered on the database were antibiotics and painkillers.
“What is interesting is that many of these specified drugs are malaria medications linked to the treatment of COVID-19,” Bertók said.