WASHINGTON — Fashion merchandise valued at $32.8 million was seized at U.S. borders during fiscal year 2003, amounting to 34.9 percent of the $94 million in knockoff goods confiscated, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service reported last week. In 2002, Customs seized $17.4 million worth of fashion merchandise.

The value of apparel seized was $14 million, 50.5 percent more than the $9.3 million worth confiscated in 2002. Cass Johnson, interim president with the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, claimed Customs is still doing a poor job ferreting out the fakes.

“It doesn’t sound like they’ve made much of a crack in the problem,” Johnson said.

Estimates of counterfeit apparel imports entering the country vary, but annually, they are thought to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition.

Apparel imports in 2003 were valued at $17.26 billion, according to the Commerce Department.

Policing for counterfeit goods has taken on new importance with federal authorities, who claim the trade in knockoffs of all kinds helps finance international terrorism.

The largest counterfeit commodity item seized by Customs in 2003 was $41.7 million in cigarettes, representing about 44 percent of the total. Other fake goods seized included $11.5 million in handbags, wallets and backpacks; $3.4 million in watches; $2.6 million in footwear, and $1.3 million in sunglasses and headwear.

The countries from which the largest number of counterfeit goods originated were China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Pakistan and Mexico.

Of the $14 million in knockoff apparel seized, almost half, or $6.5 million, came from China. The next-largest suppliers of fake garments seized were Hong Kong, with $1.6 million; Pakistan, $1.7 million, and South Korea, $808,178.

“The flood gates are open, as far as China is concerned, and this report demonstrates it,” the ATMI’s Johnson said.

Customs didn’t report any counterfeit textiles being seized in 2003, which surprised Johnson. He said domestic mills have told Customs about widespread fakery of home furnishing textiles.

“The Chinese will take pictures at trade shows or take a sample book and three months later the designs are turning up in the marketplace,” Johnson said.

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