Illicit cigarette use declines in EU but production rises

The consumption of illicit cigarettes fell below 8 per cent of total cigarette use last year, but was still equivalent to nearly 39bn smokes and €9.5bn in lost tax revenues, says a new report.

The latest edition of the annual study – carried out by KPMG on behalf of tobacco giant Philip Morris International – also found that imports of illicit cigarettes from non-EU countries such as Ukraine and Belarus declined in 2019, with law enforcement reports suggesting there are “increasing volumes from illegal factories within the EU.”

Illicit ‘whites’ with no country specific labelling – i.e. legally produced cigarettes that are smuggled and traded illegally, often through free trade zones (FTZs) – remain the largest element of the counterfeit and contraband (C&C) category, representing 23.1 per cent of total EU illicit consumption or 9bn cigarettes.

Counterfeit of brands owned by manufacturers participating in empty pack surveys grew to 7.6bn cigarettes, an increase of more than 38 percent over 2018’s figure, and is the highest level ever recorded by KPMG. Counterfeit consumption was the highest in the UK and Greece.

The overall picture is one of increasing sophistication by the criminal networks behind the illicit trade, with multiple production units to compensate if one is raised, and increasingly high tech manufacturing equipment. New groups are also emerging that are focusing specifically on smuggling raw and fine cut tobacco.

“Illicit manufacturers are producing counterfeit, established and new illicit white brands to order at scale for organisations and smugglers who can arrange distribution of large volumes, either in large shipments or increasingly via high frequency, low volume shipments,” says KPMG.

Criminal groups are exploiting new distribution channels, such as rail, as it is faster than traditional shipping routes, as well as courier packages which are small and hard for law enforcement to detect, according to the report.

“The continued decline of illicit tobacco trade in the EU is a positive development and reinforces the importance of supply chain control measures, strict enforcement, and collaboration in combating this issue,” said Alvise Giustiniani, vice president of Illicit Trade Prevention at PMI.

However, while considerable efforts have taken place to stem contraband cigarettes from flowing into the EU, “we are once again seeing criminal organisations shifting their operations to stay one step ahead of anti-illicit programmes, according to the company.

Source: Phil Taylor, Securing Industry, 26 June 2020

CBP – e-Commerce Strategy to address online shopping and growth of illicit goods

E-Commerce Strategic PlanCustoms and Border Protection has developed an e-commerce strategy in a bid to tackle the increase in online shopping and growth of illicit and counterfeit goods shipped as small packages.

The strategy, which notes that CBP must “adapt” to the new e-commerce landscape, seeks to address emerging threats posed by the global change in commerce habits and ensure CBP has the means to enforce violations.

Under the new e-commerce strategy, CBP will, among a number of measures, look to enhance data collection and intelligence, develop and utilise state-of-the-art techniques and technologies, review its existing legal and regulatory authorities, seek to strengthen partnerships with the private sector, facilitate international trade standards for e-commerce, and educate the American public of the risks, both as consumers and as importers, associated with non-compliant products.

The crackdown and new emphasis for the CBP reflects the shift from traditional methods of importing via large, containerised shipments to small, low-value packages as direct-to-consumer business becomes more common. This has presented new inspection and data challenges for CBP, especially as the volume of these small packages has increased.

In addition, transnational criminal organisations are increasingly shipping illicit goods to the US via small packages on the belief there is a lower risk of interdiction and less severe enforcement consequences if caught. CBP said this illicit activity poses a risk to the health and safety of Americans and compromises US economic security.

The new e-commerce strategy also follows a report last month by the Government Accountability Office, which reviewed the enforcement efforts by CBP and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in light of the increase in online shopping and sale of counterfeit goods. The report found that CBP had conducted a limited evaluation of its efforts, suggesting its activities were not the most efficient or effective, and recommended it evaluate its activities to enhance intellectual property enforcement.

The new strategy has a strong focus on data, which is one of the current limitations around enforcement of small packages. For instance, according to the strategy document, CBP will strengthen partnerships with stakeholders and encourage information sharing, proposing benefits for those parties who share advance electronic data and other information and will penalise those who are not compliant in this area.

The agency will also increase its operational efficiency and effectiveness by using data analytics, data mining, and an array of powerful analytical tools. In addition, CBP will expand its existing advance electronic data pilot in the international mail environment to include additional foreign postal operators.

Potential technology options include mobile applications and an e-commerce resource library, the strategy notes. CBP will also develop a portal that contains a database on importers that CBP has vetted and deemed “trusted”.

Source: USCBP and Securing Industry, online article 2018.03.28

Singapore destroys 8 tonnes of illegal ivory

Singapore on Monday crushed and burnt almost eight tonnes of ivory confiscated over two years to try to deter smugglers as activists called for tighter enforcement.

Over 2,700 elephant tusks weighing 7.9 tonnes were fed into an industrial rock crusher before incineration.

It was the fist time seized ivory had been destroyed in Singapore, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said in a statement. Previous hauls were returned to the originating country, donated to museums or kept for education.

The tusks, estimated to be worth Sg$13 million ($9.6 million), were seized on four separate occasions between January 2014 and December 2015. In May 2015 some 2,000 tusks were found hidden in a shipment of tea leaves from Kenya.

“The public destruction of ivory sends a strong message that Singapore condemns illegal wildlife trade. By crushing the ivory, we ensure it does not re-enter the ivory market,” said Desmond Lee, a senior minister of state in the interior and national development ministry.

Singapore can do more to enforce strict anti-trafficking laws, said WWF-Singapore communications director Kim Stengert.

“There are illegal wildlife shipments caught in other ports after they came through Singapore. So we definitely need to step up efforts to enforce the strict rules,” he said.

The ivory trade has been banned since 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, of which Singapore is a signatory. Source: AFP News

World Wildlife Day – 2015

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture - Carl de Souza - AFP]

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture – Carl de Souza – AFP]