Saudi Gazette – LONG gone are the days when the Saudi market was full of high-quality electronics and other consumer products. Instead of globally-recognized brands, cheap imports and fake goods from East Asian countries now constitute a large portion of the products being sold in markets all over the Kingdom. Although the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has exerted great efforts to curb the import of counterfeit and poor quality products, their efforts have failed to stem the flow, Al-Riyadh daily reports.

Issa Al-Issa, a spokesman for Saudi Customs, said over 84 million fake goods have been seized since the beginning of 2015, of which 400,000 were fake auto spare parts while 372,000 constituted fake medications.

“We use the World Customs Organization’s Interface Public-Members to fight commercial fraud and counterfeiting. The system provides detailed information about companies’ registered products so fake ones can be identified. We also work with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to secure all customs points and prevent any fake goods from entering the market,” he said.

According to Manal Al-Shareef, the former Consumer Protection Association’s (CPA) Makkah Region branch manager, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry should be held responsible for the fake products that have swept through Saudi markets. She suggested stiffer penalties on anyone that imports counterfeit products.

“The ministry’s penalties are not commensurate with the serious implications the fake products proliferating the market could have for consumer safety. The ministry should impose stricter penalties and rid the market of these inferior quality goods, which are both dangerous for the consumer and bad for the economy,” she said, while calling on the authorities to give the CPA more leeway to perform its tasks and provide better services that are free of bureaucratic red tape.

Al-Shareef said all concerned authorities that are in charge of consumer protection should work together to prevent fake goods from reaching Saudi markets. She also said the current teams tasked with monitoring markets for fake goods are understaffed and incapable of doing their jobs effectively.
“Why are businesses that sell fake products not being named and shamed in the media? Sometimes, fines are not enough. A lot of these businesses sell most of their counterfeit goods before inspectors even find out about them. In such cases, fines are very low because they are determined based on the amount of goods confiscated,” she explained.

Counterfeit medicines

Dr. Mansour Al-Tubaiqi, director of medical information center at Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Jeddah, warned against the dangers of counterfeit medicines. “These medicines are sold by pharmacies in broad daylight and under the nose of inspectors. Some of them, especially the ones used for weight loss, are extremely dangerous to public health,” he said.

Explaining that counterfeiters have become increasingly sophisticated in passing on counterfeits as originals, Dr. Al-Tubaiqi said pharmacists need to be trained by the government on how to identify counterfeit medicines so they can report them to the concerned authorities. He suggested the Ministry of Health and Saudi Food and Drug Authority work closely and run joint inspection visits to pharmacies in order to prevent the selling of counterfeit or unregistered medications.

Lawyer Fawaz Al-Zahrani said the Anti-Commercial Fraud Law is clear about the penalties for selling counterfeit goods. According to the law, penalties can reach a maximum of SR50,000 in fines or prison terms of up to two years. In cases where cheating can cause great loss to human or animal line, the punishment could be a fine as high as SR1 million and three years’ imprisonment.

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