Jun 13, 2011
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French agents in endless hunt for counterfeits

Jun 13, 2011

June 12 - A strong smell of glue, a logo slightly askew, a label written in Chinese; it won't take long for the customs officer to take the luxury bag aside.

A custom officer looks at counterfeit child's scooters to be destroyed at a scrap dealer in April 2011 in France (Photo: AFP, Sebastien Bozon)

In the heart of this cavernous air freight hangar, merchandise suspected of being fake moves down a platform: drugs from India, food from Turkey, cigarettes and alcohol from Russia.

Suspicious packages, spotted by a trained eye, will end their journey here, at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle outside Paris, France's busiest airport.

Armed with a box-cutter, an agent rips open a box of shoes from China. He takes out pairs of trainers poorly wrapped in plastic.

"It's crude." said Michel Horn, head of customs at Roissy Airport. "The appearance alone tells you they're fake."

Another box holds clothes, bags and hats all clumped together.

Marc Mosse, a manufacturer representative, takes out a Louis Vuitton handbag.

"There's no wrapping," he said. "The closures and the materials are of bad quality, it smells of glue."

To mark World Anti-Counterfeiting Day, an event created by the International Chamber of Commerce, industry representatives have come to meet customs officers and help them distinguish the fake from the real.

The procession of objects is seemingly endless: medication, toys, software, sun glasses, car parts... Fake goods match the latest styles and seasons.

"The counterfeit industry matches trends and adapts to markets with great reactivity," said Mosse.

He said the Internet had been a huge help to counterfeiters, helping them keep a close eye on the latest designs. Customs agents even uncover fakes before shops have received the originals.

An agent opens a box filled with spinning tops, the latest worldwide rage with children. Fake toys often have tiny parts that come unattached, badly held together by highly toxic glue.

To ward off agents, some recent counterfeit goods travel piece-meal: the hands to a watch in one shipment and the straps in another, for example, all to be assembled later.

In 2010, Roissy agents seized nearly 1.4 million counterfeit goods, an amount that increases about 10 percent every year, said Horn.

"It's a game of cat and mouse," a counterfeit specialist from Renault, who wished to remain anonymous, said. "It's an endless fight, but necessary."

Five to 10 percent of spare auto parts in France were fake, he said: but that the number shot up to 50 percent in countries where the rules were less stringent.

At the end of the hangar, behind a gate marked "blocked by customs", stacks of boxes wait for a final decision.

Those confirmed as carrying fakes will be destroyed.

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