Travelers beware! Switzerland is cracking down on people who buy counterfeit goods and try to bring them into the country. People arriving in Switzerland with fake textiles, handbags, shoes and, of course, fake Swiss luxury watches could have their items snatched away by border officials, when new customs rules come into force July First. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
Fake versions of famous Swiss brands, such as Omega, Cartier, and Rolex, proliferate. Some of the watches are very well done, making it hard for many people to resist the lure of buying a pricey gold, diamond-studded Rolex for just $25 or $50.
The Swiss watch-making industry claims it loses more than $700 million a year from these knock-offs. Jean-Daniel Pasche heads the industry association.
"The fakes can provoke damage to the brand," he said. "If there are too many fakes on the market, the consumer could lose the confidence they have in the true watches. So, it is very dangerous to admit such fakes on the market."
The head of legal services at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property, Juerg Herren, tells VOA people should not think that buying fake goods is just a petty crime. He calls it a serious matter, which must be discouraged. He says the new law, which comes into effect July 1, closes a loophole that allows individuals to enter the country with fake goods they buy for themselves.
"Customs will be able to seize infringing goods carried by private people for their personal use only. So, that means even if the goods in question are not intended for resale, customs can seize these goods," said Herren.
Herren says pirated goods are a growth industry. He says those most sought after by tourists include textiles, handbags, watches and shoes. But, he says virtually everything gets counterfeited today. No sector is spared. He says it is difficult, if not impossible, to stamp out this trade, but that efforts must be made.
"Of course, we are perfectly aware that it will not be possible to screen everybody coming into Switzerland. This is not the purpose of the new law," he said. "The purpose is rather to have a consistent message also to our own nationals that counterfeiting is a big problem and very detrimental. So, it is all about this and we are perfectly aware that customs will only act if they happen to stumble across a product that is fake."
Herren does not consider this a draconian law.
"The only thing that customs can do is seize the watch. So, what you lose is actually the fake product and I don't think it is a right to have a fake product. But, there will be no fines and there will be no prison term, of course. There will be no criminalizing of private people," said Herren.
Most counterfeit products originate from Asia, particularly China. The Swiss watch-making industry says China is the top producer of fake timepieces. Most of the people who bring in fake goods are believed to be the Swiss, themselves.
Oddly enough, the Swiss tourist board says Chinese visitors usually buy an authentic Swiss brand, so they can impress the folks back home with their purchase.