Illicit Trade Round-Up: February 2017



February saw a series of events examining the issue illicit trade take place across Europe.

The most prominent amongst them was the Global Illicit Trade Summit, held on 21 February and organised by The Economist. The event which took place in Brussels, focused on how counterfeiting and illicit trade are harming industries from pharmaceuticals and luxury goods to consumer electronics and FMCGs. Participants debated what needs to be done to protect society, uphold the rule of law and ensure strong enforcement of global supply chains.

The Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Security and Internal Affairs Jan Jambon, delivered the keynote speech, and told attendees that illicit trade had clear links to the funding to terrorism. As SecuringIndustry reports, the investigation into last year’s terrorist attacks at Brussels Airport and subway uncovered a well organised group with clear links to illicit trade.

The Minister highlighted that “the battle against the illegal economy” was one of the key pillars underpinning activities deployed to tackle terrorism in districts around Brussels, disrupting the flow of money from illicit trade and depriving criminals and terrorist group of the proceeds of criminal activities. The minister also highlighted the importance of international police cooperation in the context of worldwide reach of criminal networks.

According to a summary note on the event by the World Customs Organization, the particular role played by the private sector, given its knowledge of supply chains and the data that it holds, was brought up during the discussions on how to counter illicit trade in practice, and more specifically on how to improve risk management. Speakers also highlighted the role of other agencies and actors, including prosecutors and judges, in the fight against illicit trade as stopping goods at the border is only the start of a process which should aim at dismantling illicit networks and arresting criminals.

The annual Pharmapack Europe show in Paris took place on 7 and 8 February. Packaging World reports that patient centricity, traceability, innovation, compliance and adherence were the top trends in pharmaceutical packaging and drug delivery devices unveiled at the event. In the discussions at the show, experts agreed that in the last 20 years several products have had anti-counterfeiting and traceability issues in an increasingly complex supply chain. They also highlighted that packaging is the key element in the security for patients and products, with tamper evidence now expected to be an essential requirement in the future.

The Serialisation and Track & Trace symposium, part of the programme at the show, outlined the industry’s efforts to overcome pharmaceutical counterfeiting, putting traceability solutions and serialization strategies at the forefront of the agenda. The publication reports that in a special session dedicated to the EU Falsified Medicine’s Directive, manufacturers were able to get guidance ahead of the imminent guidance. The symposium also showcased practical examples of traceability application and compliance for attendees.

Another event on the February agenda was EurActiv’s workshop, titled, ‘EU-Belarus co-operation: can it help in fighting illicit trade?’ The event which took place on 9 February in Brussels, debated what the EU should do to improve its approach to fighting illicit tobacco trade, looking at what the main constraints are in coordinating efforts with non-EU countries and how they can be overcome. It framed the discussion in the context of whether cooperation between the EU and Belarus, which is known as a source market for illicit goods, can become a model to apply to other third countries bordering the EU; and how Track & Trace systems can contribute to this. EurActiv has also published a detailed note on the discussions at the workshop.

Forthcoming Events

  • 3rd Anti-Counterfeiting Pharma Conference 2017, 7-8 March, London
  • Brand Protection Excellence Forum, 16-17 March, Munich
  • OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade (TF-CIT) 2017 meeting, 28-29 March, Paris
  • 2nd Global Brand Protection Innovation Programme, 30-31 March, Frankfurt


Earlier in the month, EurActiv interviewed Margarete Hofmann, director of policy at the European Anti-Fraud Office, who voiced the problem of tobacco smuggling as a ‘major source’ of organised crime. Mrs Hofmann highlighted the creativity of criminals when it comes to concealing the goods they are attempting to traffic and the importance of close cooperation with national authorities. She also discussed the cooperation between EU countries and the industry on the illicit trade in the context of the EU’s recent decision not to renew cooperation with Philip Morris International and the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the EU and Belarus regarding the so-called “cheap whites”.

On the upcoming European track and trace legislation, Mrs Hofmann commented that while other services of the Commission are better placed to assess such possible systems, the most important for OLAF is that the supply chain is controlled at every step of the way; and that regardless of the system chosen, the focus should be on making sure all producers utilise such systems, thus ensuring their products do not fall into the hands of criminal networks. She also highlighted the importance of cooperation among EU member state intelligence services not only with regards to terrorism but also to economic crimes. She stressed the broad criminal potential of the illicit trade in tobacco, noting that the proceeds of illegal tobacco traffic have, in some instances, indeed been used to fund terrorist groups.

On 22 February, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) released its work programme for 2017, outlining a series of initiatives in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy.

Securing Industry highlights that one of the six action plans in the document covers efforts to strengthen the IP system. The focus will be on improving IP education and awareness – particularly among younger people – and a pilot will be run to assist enforcers to scan bar codes and access information concerning the goods and associated IP rights from mobile devices.

One of these initiatives is the launch of Anti-counterfeiting Rapid Intelligence System (ACRIS), a tool intended to help rights holders and enforcement agencies to press their rights abroad. It takes the form of a database that allows EU-based companies to report – in a structured format – information about IP infringements and follow-up by local authorities in countries outside of the EU.

Securing Industry further reports that the EUIPO is committed to continue financing the activities of the Europol IP Crime Coordination Centre meant to increase information gathering and monitor trends in the field of online IP crime and related areas. The Office will also collect relevant jurisprudence related to enforcement of IP rights rendered at national level in the EU member states.


Packaging Today has looked at how brands are responding to increasing consumer awareness of counterfeit goods in a feature titled The future of communications. The article highlights that packaging has a key role to play in making closer personal connections with customers and that technology is enabling brands to evolve their communication channels further. According to the piece, more interactive coding and marking systems that will expand how the supply chain can track and trace individual products from manufacturer to consumer will become popular in the future; while brands are expected to start using more electronics, including innovation with e-ink displays and unique IDs on every pack. Overt systems of coding and marking have become quite popular, but more covert systems are starting to gain traction and they are expected to drive innovation. The author concludes that as more and more brands from various sectors are getting consumers ready to use their phones for more interaction and, subsequently, for security and authentication links to their brands, printable systems are unlikely to be able to match the potential of technologies that leverage the ubiquitous nature of the smartphone and its potential as an authentication platform.