Forging partnership to promote intellectual property rights crucial

IN mid-week, the Kenyan Anti-Counterfeit Authority (ACA) Director of Corporate, Ms Rephah Kitavi, paid a courtesy visit to the East African Business Council (EABC) in Arusha to forge a partnership in promoting intellectual property rights in the East African Community (EAC).

During the discussion, the EABC Chief Executive Officer, Mr John Bosco Kalisa, pointed out that the East African states lose between 500 million and 1 billion dollars a year from counterfeit products, most of which are fast- moving consumer goods.

“I call for a regional approach to address the challenges brought by trade in counterfeit products and the establishment of a re- gional institutional framework,” he said.

In my perspective, this is a vast threat to the East African Community Vision 2050, whose vision statement is: An upper- middle income region within a secure and politically united East Africa based on principles of inclusiveness and accountability. Its mission statement is to widen and deepen economic, political, social, and cultural integration in order to improve the quality of life of the people of East Africa.

According to various reports since 2010, manufacturers in East Africa have called for stiffer penalties against the flourishing trade in counterfeit goods following an influx of these items across re- gional markets.

This trade undermines local businesses and industries by undercutting the market, which has the knock-on effect of harming national economies and ultimately regional development. This trade undercuts the mar- ket, which hurts local firms and industries and ultimately harms national economies and regional growth.

Although a small number of fake goods are produced locally, most are imported from na- tions like China, India, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand. China is the world’s leading manufacturer of counterfeit goods, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

There are unquestionable hazards to the local economies given the close trading linkages between China and the area. On August 31, last year, the Deputy Minister for Investment, Industry, and Trade, Mr Exaud Kigahe, incorporated the views and recommendations of the members of the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Trade, and Environment during a seminar aimed at educating the members of the Committee about the implementation of the responsibilities of the Fair Competition Commission (FCC) and its success. In the seminar, held at the Msekwa Hall in Dodoma, he urged companies and customers to protest to the FCC as soon as they learn that they have been duped into purchasing counterfeit goods.

He further asked the FCC to speed up the handling of com- plaints and continue to provide more education to businesses and consumers about the steps to fol- low in filing complaints once they see or are sold fake products and how to identify those products.

“The FCC is required to in- spect counterfeit products, especially those that are harmful to human life, as well as plan to inspect counterfeit products sold through the Internet,” stressed Kigahe.

According to the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), a think tank in Uganda, nearly 40 percent of Ugandan businesses thought that they suffered as a result of unfair competition from counterfeiting and low-quality, in- expensive items. Similarly, a research report by the Confederation of Tanzanian Industries (CTI) found that the majority (92 per cent) of the 17 companies interviewed indicated a 10–30 percent market share loss as well as a loss of annual turn- over due to the counterfeiting of their products.

As a result, the Tanzanian government faces sig- nificant losses in tax revenue.

Despite measures taken by governments, counterfeit goods continue to pour into East African markets.

In recent years, Kenya’s multi-agency task force against counterfeits has seized goods worth millions of dollars in various operations.

On June 25, 2018, a ‘Reuters’ report on the arrest of top officials from the Kenya Bureau of Standards over the importation of substandard fertiliser pointed to deeply entrenched corruption at the core of the country’s regulatory system, with the heading ‘Kenyan standards officials face attempted murder charge over fertiliser.

From my point of view, it is obvious that advances in science and technology also significantly contribute to the creation of coun- terfeit goods because it is simple to locate equipment and a variety of internet tools that encourage counterfeiters to imitate well- known brands.

I think that the hope of a brighter future in business among investors following the establish- ment of the common market has been dashed by the expanding trade in counterfeits, currently worth millions of dollars.

Apart from counterfeits, pira- cy, violations of intellectual property rights, and smuggling are also common in the region, and product imitation is rampant. Responding to the issues, Ms Kitavi highlighted some of the on- going developments, such as the establishment of a platform to register all imported brands with the aim of easily tracking counterfeit goods.

Ms Kitavi also requested the EABC’s support for the organ- isation of the 1st International Conference on Intellectual Prop- erty Protection and Enforcement (ICIPPE-1) scheduled for June 20 this year. Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania have yet to fully align their national laws with the East African Community Anti-Counterfeit Bill, a regional instrument adopted in 2013. Kenya set up the Anti-Counterfeit Agency after amending the Anti-Counterfeit Act of 2008.

However, the agency continues to struggle to have a real impact.

In Tanzania, the Merchandise Marks Act, in force since 2008, was amended in 2010. In Uganda, efforts to combat counterfeit goods reportedly suffered a setback in early 2018 when the government withdrew a 2015 anti-counterfeit goods bill from Parliament, argu- ing that existing laws were suffi- cient.

Besides harmonising legislation, the three countries can draw valuable lessons from neighboring Rwanda and Ethiopia, where stringent laws have helped reduce counterfeit medicine specifically.

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