US: E-commerce firms need to do more about fake goods

Knockoff handbag sales have grown through online stores.
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Updated 26 January 2020

US: E-commerce firms need to do more about fake goods

  • 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

WASHINGTON: 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, White House administration officials said Friday as they released a plan aimed at cracking down on counterfeit goods.
An “action plan” released by the Department of Homeland Security 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 warehouses where merchandised is stored.
It also calls on 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,” Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of DHS, said in releasing the plan, “but there 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, eBay and the Chinese giant Alibaba.
The international trade in counterfeit products rose 154 percent, from $200 billion in 2005 to $509 billion in 2016, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. DHS said in the report that it made nearly 34,000 seizures of fake goods in 2018, a 10-fold increase from 2000.
To underscore their point, and the potential risk, they displayed a range of bogus goods, including a bike helmet, cigarettes, auto parts and tools and fake medications.
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.

FASTFACT

The Department of Homeland Security made nearly 34,000 seizures of fake goods in 2018, a 10-fold increase from 2000

“This is an absolute righteous threat that’s growing exponentially every single year,” said Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
The plan was created in response to a presidential memo signed by President Donald Trump in April that called for the creation of a strategy to rein in what the administration called the “Wild West” of online 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.
E-commerce company eBay said: “We welcome and support this multi-stakeholder dialogue and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the administration, Congress, law enforcement and our industry partners to combat counterfeits and bad actors,” it said.


A homegrown UAE brand bets on date’s heritage appeal

Updated 30 min 14 sec ago

A homegrown UAE brand bets on date’s heritage appeal

  • Dates are locally sourced by The Date Room from around 20 farms in the Al Ain oasis area of Abu Dhabi
  • UAE farms grow about 475,000 tons of dates a year, a significant percentage of which is exported

DUBAI: When you can answer the classic business question about a unique selling proposition (USP) in six different ways, you likely have a successful product on your hands.

Thankfully, when you are dealing with dates, unusual product features are not a problem.

There are more than 3,000 date varieties around the world, but Emirati brand The Date Room is approaching the sticky business of breaking into an established market with just half a dozen local cultivars.

From the buttery, caramel notes of the golden Kholas date to the lower-carbohydrate Razaiz type, their flavors offer a change from the more commonly available Medjool and Deglet Noor varieties.

Being locally sourced from about 20 farms in the Al-Ain oasis area of Abu Dhabi, they are also introducing UAE residents to the nation’s heritage.

“Emirati dates are unique because they’re generally much richer in taste and texture than others on the market — although they can be smaller in size,” said Tony N. Al-Saiegh, executive director of The Date Room.

The Date Room launched with two luxury boutiques in the UAE last November after founder Ahmed Mohamed bin Salem spotted a gap for local fruit in a market dominated by produce from Saudi farms.

While official market share by origin data is not available, Saudi dates may control close to 90 percent of the UAE’s retail market.

Yet, with an annual production of 755,000 tons, Saudi Arabia trails Egypt, Iran and Algeria, all of which produce in excess of a million tons each year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

By contrast, UAE farms grow about 475,000 tons, a significant percentage of which is exported.

Dates are among the world’s oldest cultivated crops. The palm is native to the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, with origins that go back more than 5,000 years to what is modern-day Iraq.

The appeal of dates has grown considerably in recent years. Their high fiber and mineral profile have led to their classification as a superfood, they have been used for their high natural sugar content in healthy natural alternatives to processed candy bars.

“The Date Room’s main initial motive was the fact that our own farms produce a superior quality of date in every way,” Al-Saiegh said.

“Our families have been enjoying these dates with every meal and occasion for generations, so why not introduce it to the market in a way that makes them available to everyone but also promotes the unique culture of the UAE?”

The company’s annual production runs to about 160 tons.

For now, distribution is restricted to the UAE, but Al-Saiegh says his team is in talks with distributors in India and Indonesia.

With farmers everywhere agonizing over the impact of climate change, what are the challenges facing date farmers, accustomed as their crops are to heat and aridity?

Scientists expect 2019 to be the second-hottest year on record after 2016, and they forecast that by 2070, today’s major producers will suffer from a markedly unsuitable climate.

Despite palm trees being able to tolerate the heat for hundreds of years, Al-Saiegh says his farms are already feeling the impact.

“As the weather gets hotter and the summers get longer, it’s drying out farms and (arable) land. This means more water is required because a lack of water affects the size and texture of the fruit,” he explains.

While the full impact of those changes is some years away, the Abu Dhabi government has focused on conserving the UNESCO World Heritage oasis where the UAE’s dates are grown.

On the other hand, given the way technology has transformed the local agricultural sector with solutions such as vertical, indoor and soilless farms, Al-Saiegh may soon be able to add another distinguishing feature to The Date Room’s USP.

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.