Experts say co-operation among regional countries is important in battling smuggled goods.
By Aleksandar Pavlevski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 25/01/13
Macedonian customs officers seize counterfeit handbags. [AFP]
Countries in Southeast Europe intensified the struggle against smuggling and counterfeit consumer goods across country borders, paying special attention to falsely branded goods produced in some of the regional countries.
Macedonian customs officials said that seizing counterfeit goods protects private property ownership and enforces legal business exchange.
"Last year, 91 criminal charges were issued for smuggled goods to 141 legal entities and individuals. The total amount of avoided duty taxes was about 4.8 million euros. Altogether 737 legal violations were submitted to the courts. Smugglers were fined a total of 1.5 million euros, and had a total of 285,000 euros in foreign currencies seized from them," Vanco Kargov, director of the Macedonian customs administration, told SETimes.
Macedonia's customs officers confiscated more than 500,000 goods in 2012, including textile, jewelery, weapons, medical equipment, technical goods and food.
"The anti-smuggling struggle in Macedonia and the region is intensified. Governments of Balkan countries understand the importance of protecting the right to intellectual property; not only foreign companies are at loss, but national economies also," Valentin Pepeljugovski, lawyer and legal representative for foreign brands in Macedonia, told SETimes.
Experts claim co-operation among regional countries is important, especially among the customs services, in battling smuggled goods. Producers of counterfeited goods and their importers migrate from one country to another, seeking borders where customs control is weak.
"Co-operation of countries provides a more efficient border control, without hindering the free flow of passengers and goods, and results in successful detection of all forms of illegal cross-border activities," Kargov said.
The Macedonian Customs Administration plans to propose changes and amendments to the existing law on customs measures for the protection of intellectual property rights this year.
Investors see a successful struggle with smugglers and counterfeiters as a guarantee of their property, profit and intellectual property. For consumers, it guarantees that the market offers original, quality goods.
"Big companies exchange information and will not invest in a country or a region where everyone can use their patent, trademark, or industrial design with impunity," Pepeljugovski told SETimes.
In the region, problems with smuggling, grey economy and counterfeit goods are common.
In Serbia, more than 40 percent of GDP comes from the underground economy, which is twice as high as in EU countries.
Damage from illegally imported goods to the economy is estimated to be hundreds of millions of euros, and employers are looking for more efficient inspection services to create a single database of offenders.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) also has had big problems with smuggling in the past, especially after the armed conflict. Cattle and meat smuggling was rampant on the borders with Serbia and Croatia.
"Thousands of tonnes of meat was smuggled after the war, but the police, in the last five years, drastically reduced smuggling. I think it will be further reduced when Croatia joins the EU, as control will increase," Sead Jelec, secretary-general of the BiH Association of Cattle and Agriculture Producers, told SETimes.
Drazen Remikovic in Podgorica contributed to this feature.