The national lockdown last year has significantly impacted on the circulation of original, as well as counterfeit, automotive components, says law firm Spoor & Fisher partner Paul Ramara.
This can largely be attributed to the restrictions in place during the various levels of lockdown, particularly Level 5, which limited the enforcement of anti-counterfeit laws.
Ramara highlights several major differences in anti-counterfeiting enforcement during lockdown, compared with enforcement before the pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
“Passenger terminals for international passengers at various airports were closed during the initial lockdown period. Accordingly, no international passenger flights were allowed to enter South Africa. Although cargo was allowed to be imported into the country, there was a sharp decline in the number of detentions at the various ports of entry,” he explains.
Certain land borders were periodically closed for sanitising, including the Kopfontein and Lebombo border posts, in the North West and Mpumalanga respectively.
He adds that these border posts were closed for a week at some point, owing to some positive Covid-19 cases recorded among staff. This subsequent closing limited imports.
This limiting of required, genuine, imported products led to a reliance on the use of counterfeit products.
While Ramara does emphasise the fact that a significant amount of counterfeit products are imported, thereby also impacting importers of counterfeit goods during a lockdown, the spread of the Covid-19 virus also had a significant impact on law enforcement’s ability to identify and prevent the importation of counterfeit products.
This is owing to the fact that many of the police units Spoor & Fisher use for in-market operations were quarantined for 14 days at a time, owing to officials in those units testing positive for the virus. This further hampered any in-market enforcement efforts.
“It is critical to stop counterfeit goods at the port of entry before they enter the South African market.”
The lockdown also forced companies, such as Spoor & Fisher, to put any customs and police training initiatives on hold.
“There needs to be a stronger focus on making sure that counterfeiters are prosecuted, as counterfeiting is a criminal offence. The judiciary needs to be sensitised about the importance of fighting counterfeiting, as it is not the victimless crime some perceive it to be.”
He adds that the earlier stages of lockdown, which caused certain industries to discontinue operating for a certain period, also reduced their manufacturing of original components.
Further, the advent of electronic commerce has increased the sales of counterfeit components sold online. Ramara says the electronic commerce industry is fairly unregulated, as people can also sell counterfeit components anonymously online.
“I anticipate that the loss of jobs to South Africans also fuelled the need for people to source counterfeit goods at cheaper prices. Counterfeit goods can also discourage consumers from buying original components.”
Ramara adds that using counterfeit automotive parts poses a number of risks, one of which is a safety risk, such as a counterfeit component causing an automotive vehicle to crash or break down.
He stresses that the sale of counterfeit components has a negative impact on the economy because counterfeiters do not contribute to tax revenue and operate unscrupulous businesses that do not contribute to the fiscus.
“Although customers and border police have done a great job in seizing goods at various ports of entry, more can still be done. Counterfeiting is a supply and demand issue – consumers need to be sensitised about the dangers of counterfeiting to themselves and the economy,” Ramara concludes.