Watch, jewelry leaders urge government action against counterfeiters

Leaders in the Swiss, French, and Italian watch and jewelry industries on Wednesday urged the world’s governments to take united action to curtail rampant counterfeiting of luxury products.

Jacques J. Duchêne, president of the BaselWorld Exhibitors Committee, which represents some 2,100 companies in 45 nations, called counterfeiting a snake that devours huge sums of money. He spoke during a press conference with several hundred journalists before the Thursday opening of BaselWorld 2006.

Duchêne estimated that about 40 million imitation Swiss watches are sold annually across the world, netting a profit of about $610 million for counterfeiters. Counterfeit goods of all kinds represent about 10 percent of global trade, with an annual turnover of about $329 billion.

The problem, he said, is receiving scant attention from most governments and consumers. “The fact is that imitation goods have become part of a new lifestyle,” he noted. “More and more consumers are accepting this, without showing any concern for the severe consequences.” He cited two factors that abet consumer indifference: the improving quality of counterfeits and new sales and auction sites on the Internet.

“We must make the public understand with every mechanism available to us that they won’t be covered by any kind of guarantee if they buy an imitation product, leaving them with no protection if the product is faulty. Furthermore, public acceptance allows the counterfeiters to go unchecked, and therefore, also, the money laundering and organized crime occur with no intervention.”

Gaetano Cavalieri, representing the Italian jewelry industry, said his country’s jewelry business is being hurt by counterfeit goods, which he called a flourishing industry. In 2003 alone, he said, turnover of counterfeit goods in Italy was more than $4.2 billion.

Patrice Bernard, representing the French Watch and Jewelry Association, said, “It’s high time to put an end to this piracy and its channels of distribution.” He also noted that workers producing counterfeits often work in “conditions that don’t respect human dignity.”

“Any serious fight against this problem can only occur through co-operation with the governments of the countries where these imitation products are manufactured,” said Duchêne. He added, “We look to the countries which import watches to strengthen the relevant laws. And I can assure you the Swiss watchmaking industry is keeping governments aware of the situation.”

Duchêne decried what he called “an all too casual attitude” in many countries and said counterfeiters are profiting from this neglect. He called for global action to begin soon to “find some way to cut off the head of this snake.”