Illicit trade has a particularly debilitating effect on legitimate business, in terms of lost market share, slower growth, damage to business infrastructure, reputational harm and rising supply chain compliance, security and insurance costs. For governments, illicit trade has an extensive destabilizing impact on global security due to its central role in facilitating transnational organized crime and illegal flows of money, people and products across borders. This in turn undermines the rule of law, giving rise to a hostile business environment that discourages investment.
In addition to distorting markets and draining public revenues, illicit trade undermines society’s efforts to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with negative impacts on consumers, workers and the environment.
The world needs sustained G7 stewardship
Representing the world's seven most industrialized economies, the G7 has shown leadership in curbing several illicit trade issues. At the 2006 St. Petersburg Summit, Leaders agreed to strengthen individual and collective efforts to combat piracy and counterfeiting, and six years later at Camp David they underscored the role that high standards for Intellectual Property Protection (IPR) and enforcement have in combatting illicit trade in pharmaceuticals. At their 2013 Lough Erne Summit, Leaders affirmed commitments against the illicit trade in endangered wildlife species, corruption, transnational organized crime and human trafficking. They also expressed their commitment to support responsible, conflict-free sourcing of minerals and precious stones. The 2015 Lübeck Foreign Ministers' Statement on Maritime Security, and the subsequent 2016 Hiroshima Statement, also saw the G7 pledge to step up efforts to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. And at the 2016 Ise-Shima Summit, Leaders pledged to tackle illegal logging.
These initial steps and commitments address significant areas of illicit trade and admirably demonstrate the clout of G7 Leaders to address major, cross-border socio-economic challenges. Nonetheless, there is a pressing need for sustained G7 leadership to address the persistent and multiplying threat of illicit trade to economic growth and prosperity. While globalization has brought with it many benefits, the massive volumes of international trade and the proliferation of supply chain nodes have increased complexities and vulnerabilities to the benefit of transnational organized crime. Here are some astonishing facts:
Given the G7’s recurring commitment to the 2030 Agenda, these threats compel the G7 to amplify its attention to the problem and to press for implementation and enforcement of all its standing declarations against illicit trade. Without concurrent efforts to combat all forms of illicit trade – and the associated corruption and organized crime – the global community will not be able to achieve the overarching sustainable development goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Fighting illicit trade must therefore be seen not only as a global responsibility of G7 leaders, but also recognized as a prerequisite to achieve the UN SDGs.
Spotlight on improving integrity in Customs and free trade zones Breaches of integrity in global supply chains, especially in border control, present significant non-tariff barriers to trade that hamper economic growth and trade performance. Recent figures from the OECD show that improving integrity policies in customs alone has the potential to reduce trade costs by 0.5% and 1.1%. Breaches in integrity in customs also contribute strongly to facilitating illicit trade: Customs officers are on the front-line conducting inspections and detecting and seizing illicit goods. If this role is compromised, the system fails and enables opportunities for illegal trade, criminal activity, illegal financial flows and trafficking in products and persons. Promoting integrity in customs can therefore generate dual benefits of reducing trade costs and mitigating flows of illicit trade, delivering significant benefits to the world trade system and economic development at large.
The misuse of transshipment points in cargo routings, especially through Free Trade Zones (FTZ), represents another challenge. Deceptive transshipment practices, mislabeling and fraudulent invoices allow illegal traders to bypass sanctions, trade tariffs and regulations by obfuscating the identity of the country of origin or the illicit nature of the goods. Unrestricted regimes for transshipment and transit of goods through FTZs contribute to a wide range of illicit activities, including money laundering, organized criminal activity in illegal wildlife trade, tobacco smuggling, fraud, and counterfeiting and piracy of products. OECD research shows that an additional FTZ within an economy is associated with a 5.9% increase in the value of exported counterfeit and pirated goods on average. Enhancing transparency in FTZs is an important measure to reduce trafficking vulnerabilities and strengthen the integrity of global supply chains.
The Charlevoix Summit represents an opportunity for G7 Leaders to collectively underscore the importance of clean international trade by driving the process towards better integrity in customs and improved transparency of FTZs.
A unified business response to illicit trade
The transnational problem of illicit trade has clearly grown well beyond the capabilities of individual governments. What is needed is a sustained, holistic and coordinated response by governments to address the multifaceted nature of this threat. Equally important is the recognition that the private sector can be an important partner in the fight against the unfettered flow of fake and harmful goods across borders.
Consequently, any long-term solutions to the threat of illicit trade will depend on sustained collaboration between governments and private sector partners. Business can contribute by continuing to develop technical solutions that protect the integrity of supply chain, and share intelligence, data, resources and measures that effectively control illicit activity. And business is willing to work with partners to convene stakeholders, improve awareness, expand the knowledge base, and energize the global dialogue.
Governments, however, need to improve regulatory structures, set deterrent penalties, rationalize tax policies, strengthen capacity for more effective enforcement, and educate consumers. This is a matter of urgency and G7 government efforts to fight illicit trade should be considered investments that pay tangible dividends to economic development and global security.
The Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (www.TRACIT.org) is responding to this challenge by leading business engagement with national governments and intergovernmental organizations to ensure that private sector experience is properly integrated into rules and regulations that will govern illicit trade. TRACIT represents companies and organizations that have a shared commitment to combatting illicit trade and ensuring the integrity of supply chains. Addressing illegal trade – whether that be smuggling of alcohol, illegal logging, counterfeit pesticides or petroleum theft and trafficking in persons – presents common challenges for a growing number of industries. All stakeholders have an interest in stamping out illicit trade; and all benefit from collective action.
In this regard, business offers its support to the G7 to advance implementation of its many commitments from past Summits. And, we suggest that Charlevoix presents a timely opportunity for Leaders to elevate priority attention to illicit trade and work with business to address associated threats to safety, security, cybersecurity, natural resources and economic development.
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About tracit talking points
TRACIT Talking Points is a channel we’ve opened to comment on current trends and critical issues. This blog showcases articles from our staff and leadership, along with feature stories from our partners in the private sector and thought-leaders from government and civil society. Our aim is to deepen the dialogue on emerging policy issues and enforcement measures that can be deployed against illicit trade.