Coming to grips with fake consumer goods

It is no secret that Guyana continues to have to deal with the considerable health and economic risks associated with the challenge of counterfeit consumer goods’ imports and our glaringly limited capacity to address the problem.

If we are somewhat uplifted by the seeming energy and optimism of Director of the Food and Drugs Department, Mr Marlon Cole, we cannot help but match his disposition with evidence that the problem is huge and beyond him. Mr Cole, through no fault of his own, really has no clear idea as to the volume of counterfeit goods that enter Guyana. By extension, he has no idea as to the volume of the trade.

The reasons for this reposes, first, in our open borders which allow all sorts of goods to enter the country unaccounted for. The other problem, by Mr Cole’s own admission, is that capacity limitations mean that the Food and Drugs Department only gets to examine a limited quantity of the imports.

What makes the counterfeit consumer goods trade even more worrisome is the fact that apart from its exponential global growth and the health risks that it poses for Guyana, there is also the fact that it creates potentially lucrative, albeit illegal hustles, for big and small vendors. Here in Guyana there is a widespread suspicion that the marketing of counterfeit products has become an ingrained business pursuit and Mr Cole himself alluded to what he sees as a battle between importers of genuine brands and those who would undersell them by bringing in the cheaper counterfeits.

The fact is that small, under-resourced and to a large extent vulnerable as it is, the Food and Drugs Department will always struggle to rein in an industry that is huge, driven by considerable resources and susceptible to bribes and kickbacks.

Mr Cole has made two important points about his Department’s vision for going forward. The first has to do with what he said is the “total support” of the state apparatus for his department’s plans to tackle the problem. The second is the continued growth of what would appear to be an influential stakeholder consensus on the way forward.

Even that, however, is not enough. There is, for example, evident scope for re-siting and resourcing the Department, pursuits which are necessary but which, for some inexplicable reason, have long been neglected. We believe too that there is scope for much closer cooperation between Food and Drugs and Customs that would give the former much greater inspection-related access to much more of the consumer items being imported. Those are areas that perhaps can be addressed in the short to medium term.

As for our porous borders, that problem remains beyond the scope of the Food and Drugs Department and, at least in the foreseeable future, beyond the government as well. All the more reason why those systems and mechanisms that lie within our control should be developed to their optimum. The risks associated with the uninhibited movement of counterfeit goods – particularly drugs – into the country are much too great and for all the efforts of Mr Cole and his staff and the support of the government. One day our luck could run out.