GENEVA — Executives from some of the world’s most powerful corporations are rallying behind efforts by governments, global enforcement agencies and trade associations to stem the epidemic of multibillion-dollar counterfeiting and piracy.

Experts at the third Global Congress Combating Counterfeiting & Piracy here said the problem, once concentrated on luxury goods and music, has inundated every sector of the worldwide economy — from textiles, apparel and footwear to auto and aircraft parts, medicines, electronics and basic foodstuffs.

Much of the activity is conducted by international criminal gangs and also has been linked as a source of fund-raising activity for some terrorist groups.

“This is a global phenomenon which requires global action,” said Kamil Idris, chief of the World Intellectual Property Organization. “Counterfeiters and pirates are thwarting economic development and endangering health and safety. Their methods are sophisticated, their reach is far and their crimes claim victims every day.”

In a keynote address, Robert Wright, vice chairman of General Electric Co. and chairman and chief executive officer of NBC Universal, said, “We need action and we need more than modest measures … Shippers need to make sure they know their customers. Retailers have a responsibility to be vigilant about the integrity of their supply chains.”

The World Customs Organization, along with Interpol, are co-sponsors of the conference, which is being supported by the international Chamber of Commerce and other trade groups. Michel Danet, the customs organization secretary general, said there are increasing signs of fakes being produced at an ever-growing pace. Last year in the U.S. there were 15,000 seizures by customs agents, up 83 percent compared with 2005, and that the same trends are being observed in the European Union.

“The scale of the problem is massive … In the space of a few weeks, almost 200 containers, mostly filled with counterfeit versions of a well-known U.S. footwear brand, were intercepted at two major European ports, giving a total weight of almost 6,000 tons of fake goods flooding in,” Danet said.

He later told reporters, “We have a huge monster that we are confronting.”

Surveys conducted with industry and public authorities indicate that “there is a notable expansion from luxury to everyday products,” said John Dryden, deputy director at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Customs statistics indicate infringements throughout the product groupings. Textile products are the most common, with 30 percent of the total, followed by machinery and equipment at 17 percent. The economic cooperation and development official said the customs suggests “counterfeiting and piracy are taking place in virtually all economies.”

This story first appeared in the January 31, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Based on customs seizures, estimates of the amount of counterfeit goods traded internationally reach $176 billion, he said, not including the large number of fakes produced and consumed within economies. An analysis from the economic cooperation group’s 30 member countries show that close to 60 percent of all seizures originated in China, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea and Malaysia, Dryden noted.

“China has been a major source of intellectual property rights violations,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters. “Statistics of pirated and counterfeit goods coming into the United States — well over 70 percent of the goods captured … at the border in the United States — come from China, and that number has been growing, not going down. So this is an issue we need to address.”

A survey by 48 companies in 27 product categories found that China was responsible for two-thirds of all counterfeit goods impounded in the European Union, followed by Russia, Ukraine, Chile and Turkey.

“The products intercepted differ quite significantly between countries, but most of them include clothing and apparel, electrical equipment, leather articles, toys, games and clocks and watches,” Dryden said.

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