Port of Port of Spain-DIAZ

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Managing Director of Bastion Market Intelligence Ltd in Port-of Spain, Roger Montero, believes that if the problems of illicit trade are addressed, then this country can get an improved ranking in the next Global Illicit Trade Environment Index.

In a statement Montero noted that illicit trade forms two parts.

Firstly, according to him, is the most tangible and includes the trafficking of narcotics, humans, weapons, cigarettes, alcohol, wildlife and so on.

The second and most intangible part, he said, is being carried out virtually, and is commonly known as cyber-attacks, where criminal elements hack into your computer or mobile systems and can hold you to ransom.

This involves the use of malware, spyware and password hacking.

“It is becoming more and more pervasive,” Montero said.

The index, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Commissioned by the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade was last published in 2018, and ranked T&T as number 75 out of 84 countries.

The index measures the extent to which economies enable (or inhibit) illicit trade through their policies and initiatives to combat illicit trade.

It examines four main categories: government policy, supply and demand, transparency and trade, and the customs environment.

Regarding brand ownership, Montero said the majority of branded clothing being sold in T&T are either counterfeit or brought in as contraband.

“Distributors are concerned with making money, and are not helping to increase awareness on illicitly traded goods – and that’s what they need to do. You will find products from Trinidad in other markets which were smuggled in as contraband, and even shipped back to Trinidad for resale,” he added.

Montero said the reason this occurs is because when the product/good is manufactured locally, the prices for each end market are different hence people take advantage of that, adding that goods are also moved easily across the region.

“The contraband we are talking about is not just a couple of items here and there, but huge quantities,” he added.

Montero also cautioned regular online shoppers saying there is a high percentage of illicitly traded goods on major well-known websites.

“What the sellers do is send the items to these websites for verification, but when they receive an order and patch it through, it is the illegitimate product that is being sold. If it is not a product from the real manufacturer, then it is deemed illegal,” he said.

On whether someone can purchase an item, for example, household items on online sites and re-sell it for a profit, Montero said once taxes are paid it is not illicit trade, except in cases where it says the product is specifically manufactured for another country.

He noted it impossible to stop smuggling in the country, unless there is an active Compliance Unit to go around and physically check.

President of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) Gregory Aboud said if penalties and sanctions are to be applied to those involved in illicit trade it should come from an independent agency, free of political interference but with guaranteed funding.

“The agency will not beholden to any political directorate, member of society, businessman, private sector group or NGO. It will be able to function independently and be measured based on their enforcement.

“Until that happens, enforcement is a moot and useless question,” Aboud said.

He agreed there is massive illicit trade taking place in the country with fake and counterfeit branding and this is particularly caused by Panama which is a great purveyor of fake products, and this poses a serious problem for the country,

Aboud said it also creates an unfair situation where those with established businesses and known brands must face the scrutiny of the Bureau of Standards, while fake products are brought into the country with little or no oversight.

He noted for far too long, there are those who benefited from not paying their taxes and it is destroying the economy.

“The very businessmen who are contributing towards the tax revenue—that is giving money to Government to do all of the things that it says it has to do —those businessmen are being eroded and corroded by this underground invisible trade, where a blind eye is turned to this so called parallel trade which gives non-traditional business people an opportunity to develop, and while no one is against giving these persons a chance to be entrepreneurs they never develop any sustainable skills,” Aboud added.

The COVID-19 pandemic, he noted has brought T&T’s economy into question, and he predicted that there will be a sharp decrease in local consumption, until the major economies like Europe and the United States reopen their businesses and trading.