Dubai Customs continues to position itself as a leader in countering illicit product transport, with regular reports showcasing the efforts and successes throughout each year. Dubai Customs remains one of the leading organizations in halting counterfeit imports in the supply chain. Additionally, the organization continues to lead efforts in sustainable solutions for discarding seized products. In 2020, the organization recycled 1,906 counterfeit items ranging from computers to athletic shoes and mobile headphones.
In this exclusive Q&A with His Excellency (HE) Ahmed Mahboob Musabih, director general of Dubai Customs, we get a behind-the-scenes peek at how the organization continues protecting consumers and the environment from counterfeit products and the international supply chain from illicit trade.
Global Trade (GT): Please discuss how Dubai Customs has successfully stopped counterfeit products from entering the supply chain.
HE Musabih: Dubai Customs works to perform all UAE obligations under international trade regulations and agreements and pays great attention to the protection of intellectual property [IP] rights. These efforts have led the United States to a decision to remove the UAE from the Watch List for Intellectual Property, according to the annual report of the Office of the United States Trade Representative [USTR], an affiliate of the U.S. federal government, on the Intellectual Property Protection.
The total number of IP disputes resolved by the department in the first quarter of 2021 was around 81 disputes, with an estimated value of AED [Emirati dirham] 11.3 million. In 2020, 255 IP disputes were resolved, with an estimated value of AED 62.2 million.
One of the most prominent seizures carried out by the department was the foiling of the smuggling of 58 counterfeit goods of oil and gas pipes based on a complaint received by the department from [Middle Eastern IP consultancy] Cedar White Bradley regarding counterfeit goods loaded in four containers coming from an Asian country to Dubai. The goods were to be brought to the UAE as original goods of oil transport pipes bearing the Vallourec trademark. These pipes posed significant risks to the environment as they were not capable of withstanding high pressure that the original pipes of that trademark were designed to withstand. This could have caused serious environmental damage if the counterfeit pipes reached the country of origin and were used for oil and gas projects.
Our efforts to combat counterfeit goods have resulted in the application of a series of measures and steps adopted by the department to resolve IP disputes relating to trademark counterfeiting goods. These measures and three steps are as follows:
1. Customs inspectors in our customs checkpoints suspect counterfeit goods through inspection activities.
2. Counterfeit goods are pre-monitored by the Smart Risk Engine System developed by the department to identify risks in commercial shipments prior to their arrival to our customs checkpoints.
3. A trademark infringement complaint is filed by the trademark owner or its legal representative.
GT: What role does technology play in halting counterfeit trade?
HE Musabih: Advanced electronic systems and applications effectively contribute to countering attempts to smuggle counterfeit goods through pre-monitoring of risks in commercial shipments. Dubai Customs has developed the Smart Risk Engine System to manage and analyze customs risks efficiently to determine risk levels in future shipments and track prohibited, restricted goods and counterfeit goods before they reach customs posts of Dubai. This process is completed by inspection and detection by highly skilled customs inspectors.
Last year, the department organized 10 workshops that were attended by 309 participants to familiarize customs inspectors and officials with how to distinguish between counterfeit and original goods. In the first quarter of 2021, two workshops were organized, which were attended by 68 participants.
The technology used in risk management has enabled us to control counterfeit goods. For example, the Customs Intelligence Department and Air Customs checkpoints management inspectors worked in coordination with the IPR Department to successfully thwart an attempt to bring a shipment bearing the “Vaseline” counterfeit trademark in the quantity of 17,280 packages coming from an Asian country via air freight, with a market value of about AED 400,000.
GT: What are some best practices Dubai Customs recommends for preventing counterfeit/illicit trade?
HE Musabih: Prevention of illicit trade of counterfeit goods is an integrated process that should include thwarting the smuggling of goods across borders through cooperation between customs departments, border control and partnerships with the private sector represented by trademark owners. This requires development of the technologies used in inspection activities and improvement of the performance of customs inspectors through continuous training while raising awareness among consumers of the dangers of counterfeit goods.
The IPR Department, through the Awareness and Education Division, contributes to raising awareness about the importance of implementing the IPR Policy internally and externally, so that internal awareness activities target customs officials and inspectors while external awareness events organized by the department target all groups of society. The number of awareness events organized by the department in the first quarter of 2021 to inform customers, partners and the public of the importance of protecting intellectual property rights, reached 12 awareness events. There were 1,394 beneficiaries of these events, including inspectors, government department staff and school students. In 2020, about 46 awareness events were organized with 2,358 beneficiaries from these categories.
The department applies environmental sustainability standards in combating counterfeit goods to achieve the UAE Agenda for Sustainable Development by stopping shipments containing counterfeit goods while avoiding environmental damage resulting from their destruction, through recycling of counterfeit goods. Through these operations, Dubai Customs prohibits the re-export of counterfeit goods to limit the trade of these goods in the world. The department has recycled about 510, 000 pieces of counterfeit goods of 26 trademarks during the first quarter of 2021. In 2020, about 161,800 counterfeit goods of 60 trademarks were recycled.
GT: How does Dubai Customs ensure the security of the supply chain?
HE Musabih: Dubai Customs is making its best efforts to prevent counterfeit goods, having allocated substantial budget to develop its system of procedures through smart devices and innovations launched by the department with a view to improving its ability to counter smuggling attempts, most notably high-capacity scanners [X-ray]. Goods within containers are detected with six scanners operating under the Advanced Container Scanning System in Jebel Ali, with a capacity of scanning 900 containers per hour. These are supported by the operating room, which follows up on operations in customs checkpoints in addition to the Early Trademark Information System and the Smart Risk Engine System targeting risk shipments.
We have an intelligence-led approach to preventing illicit trade, which relies on effective data collection and analysis, risk profiling and targeting. The comprehensive system uses technology to support public awareness, detection, enforcement and sector-specific intelligence around illicit trade and smuggling activities that pose risk for the economy and the society. But when it comes to tackling illicit trade in counterfeits, we believe that improved IP enforcement and regulatory compliance are key, but this alone will not be enough without engaging all stakeholders and consumers through enhanced consumer protection and public awareness initiatives to ensure demand for counterfeit products is reduced.