Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon.

A crackdown is coming on the illicit trade involving counterfeit branding and where there’s sale of items including alcohol, tobacco and cleaning agents.

Work on this area has also included research done and continuing, on sources of counterfeit TT money.

This was revealed by Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon yesterday in the Senate replying to UNC Senator Wade Mark’s queries.

Mark noted reports of an illicit trade involving counterfeit branding which is negatively impacting T&T’s revenue stream and global trade.

Gopee- Scoon said a substantial amount of money has been lost to this sector, but she didn’t have the figure at hand.

She added that a few raids have been done to tackle the problem but much more has to be done.

Gopee-Scoon said, “Illicit trade is a global phenomenon and Government is aware of the impact of such activity which not only results in the loss of tax revenue, but also undermines legitimate local businesses and exposes consumers to potential health risks from sub-standard products.

As such, the Government in recently outlined policy has identified the following broad measures for action, to assist with combating illicit trade locally.”

Measures comprise

* Tasking the respective ministries and border agencies to take immediate action to increase surveillance of retail operations to seize illegal products and restrict the importation of illegal commodities;

* Facilitating consumer education on the responsible consumption of products;

* Enforcing appropriate national standards for affected products.

Gopee-Scoon added, “Accordingly, the Ministry is spearheading Government’s efforts to combat illicit trade. The approach entails developing an action plan, in collaboration with key trade-related agencies and the private sector.”

“ It is anticipated that this collaborative public-private partnership will develop recommendations to address illicit trade in T&T. The ministry has already begun consultations and is receiving overwhelming support from the private sector for the initiative.”

She said it’s expected the measures proposed will not only address illicit trade broadly, but also target those products which are most frequently traded by illicit means in T&T such as tobacco, alcohol and cleaning agents.

“ A comprehensive action plan will be submitted to Cabinet in the second quarter of the fiscal year 2020/2021 and would be accompanied by a robust consumer education campaign.

Other ongoing initiatives which will support Government’s efforts to combat illicit trade include:

• Introduction of a new Consumer Protection and Empowerment Act which will treat with sale of counterfeit goods. The legislation will facilitate cooperation amongst the Consumer Affairs Division, Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, Customs and Excise Division and the Controller of the Intellectual Property Office for enforcement of these provisions to address claims of counterfeit goods brought by consumers;

•Ongoing consumer awareness campaigns by the Consumer Affairs Division geared towards identification of counterfeit products and their associated risks.

. Continued implementation of the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade Facilitation which will enhance risk profiling of cargo by the Customs and Excise Division; and

• Public-private engagement by T&T Manufacturers’ Association, including establishment of an Illicit Trade Task Force in collaboration with the Police Service, Customs/ Excise Division and the Controller of the Intellectual Property Office, to increase awareness and tackle illicit trade.