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April 1, 2016 Vol. 71 No. 6 Back to Bulletin Main Page

How the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Is Working to Protect IP Rights


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in partnership with the World Customs Organization (WCO), established the Container Control Programme (CCP) in 2004 in order to address the problem of illicit trade via maritime shipping containers. According to the UNODC, about 90 percent of all trade is conducted via maritime containers, of which more than 500 million are shipped yearly in the trade supply chain, but less than 2 percent of those are inspected. The CCP aims to minimize this problem through global, coordinated interagency cooperation.

The program is divided into several regional units, which includes the Latin America and the Caribbean unit, which operates out of the Central America and the Caribbean Regional Office of the UNODC in Panama. With the upcoming official inauguration of the Panama Canal's new locks on June 26, 2016, this region is particularly important to the CCP’s success, and there are plans for significant expansion this year.

Bob Van den Berghe, Law Enforcement Expert and Regional Coordinator for the CCP Latin America and Caribbean Region (pictured above), and Amado Philip de Andrés, Regional Representative, UNODC in Central America and the Caribbean (pictured right), recently spoke with the INTA Bulletin to explain more about the program and how brand owners can help it to achieve its goals.

How did each of you come to work with UNODC and what do your roles entail?

Bob Van den Berghe (BV): I worked for 23 years for the Federal Police in Belgium. From 2000 to 2014 I worked for the Federal Judicial Police in Antwerp, where one of my main responsibilities was related to the trafficking of illicit goods through maritime containers; Antwerp is one of the main players in this arena due to its centralized geographic and economic situation. I built up a lot of experience related to the international trafficking of maritime containers on a global basis, and I’ve been confronted with all kinds of violations. I built up a network of relations with customs agencies, governments, prosecution officers, as well as with the private sector. At the moment, I’m the Law Enforcement Expert and Regional Coordinator for the Container Control Programme (CCP) for the Latin America and Caribbean region, stationed in Panama, working out of the Regional Office of Panama for the UNODC. I started in this role in June of 2014.

Amado Philip de Andrés (AdA): I am Regional Representative for UNODC in Central America and the Caribbean. I have worked for the United Nations for over 20 years. I originally was a World Bank civil servant and was transferred to the UN 17 years ago. My background is in criminal law and international economics. Previously, I served as the Deputy Representative of UNODC for West and Central Africa based in Dakar, Senegal, covering 26 countries. The CCP was very strong back then and now it’s even stronger. Next, I was based in Vienna coordinating UNODC activities for Latin America and the Caribbean, and now I am the Regional Representative of UNODC based in Panama in the Regional Office for Central America and the Caribbean, covering all eight countries in Central America, the 14 countries in the Caribbean plus the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Cuba. The CCP is part of the regional security hub that the Panamanian authorities want the UN and UNODC to establish in Panama for the region. It has several different angles, but port and maritime security is one aspect of the regional security hub that we are helping Panama to establish.

What is the Container Control Programme?

AdA: The CCP was established in 2004 in an effort to minimize the trade in illicit goods via maritime shipping containers. The first country in the world to participate was Ecuador, followed by countries in West and Central Africa, such as Senegal and Ghana.

BV: Today, in this region, we are operational in Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador, Paraguay, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Suriname. We have the funding and are hoping to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to become operational in Costa Rica as well, and have funding to start the program in Peru. Next month I’m visiting Argentina, Brazil and Chile, all of which will hopefully be in the program by this year, and we have funding as well for Cuba, El Salvador and Honduras.

Why was Ecuador the first?

AdA: UNODC wanted to pilot an initial country and Ecuador was the winner because the capacity they already had was good, and they were ready to test the establishment of interagency units in their port. They became part of the network of CCP that we have in this region and that we now use in other regions like Asia and West and Central Africa.

BV: When the program began it was very drugs-focused, and Ecuador is a gateway country with respect to drugs. A country first has to express its interest in the program, which Ecuador did, and then geographically it was an interesting choice for the pilot project with respect to drug trafficking. Clearly, ten years further along now, the scope has expanded beyond drugs to everything from fauna and flora to IPR issues, false medicines, seizures of cash money, firearms and munitions.

So countries have to express their interest in the program first in order to participate?

AdA: Yes, and we also coordinate and interconnect the different interagency units among the regions—Central America, Caribbean and South America—and their regions of interest. For instance, Brazil and Argentina are very interested in trade in key countries like Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. In Panama, with the expansion of the Panama Canal, we will have “Super Panamax” [ships] passing through the Canal starting in July 2016, with more than 18,000 containers for each ship. The route of the Pacific will triple in the next nine months, so there will be more interconnectivity via Panama with the Pacific and therefore with Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, China and of course the United States. Our interconnectivity with the U.S. via the Pacific will increase by 155 percent in the next year and a half.

How do you interact with IP rights on a daily basis?

BV: We are confronted with violations related to IPR and counterfeits daily. We deal with a wide variety of products, from clothing to beauty, cigarettes, toys and electronics and so on, so it’s really a daily concern to us. This is also the reason we have established interagency units to profile the correct containers to be inspected. On a yearly basis, we have 500 to 600 million containers moving around globally, and less than 2 percent of those are inspected in a physical way. So that’s why it’s so important that the units really target the correct containers to be inspected. There are two key factors at play—one is security and the other is facilitating trade. Our units can’t just open any container in a random way, because then you will be slowing down the chain of commerce. The shipping lines and ports would lose their clients if their containers were inspected all the time.

Clearly, IPR is very important for Panama as well. We have the Free Trade Zone in Colón, which is the second biggest free trade zone in the world. Quite a lot of products related to IPR are in transit here and afterwards transported inward within the region itself and by plane.

What successes have you had in Panama with the CCP?

AdA: Panama joined the CCP in 2009 and has been one of the best successes for three reasons. The first is the way we established the interagency units. In Africa, for instance, they focused on Customs and Police, but in Panama, the role of the Attorney General’s Office (and prosecution of drug cartels) is also very strong, and specialized prosecutors on transnational organized crime are very active in each unit. Secondly, here many officials are multilingual. In some other countries they are not. Lastly, we are increasingly connected with Europe, Africa and the Middle East and other regions in Asia and the Pacific. The CCP in Panama and Ecuador are really two of the key successes worldwide.

BV: At the moment we have eight operational countries. In 2014, this CCP unit seized about 92 maritime containers with counterfeit goods with a variety of different products and renowned brands. In 2015, we had about 58 maritime containers seized. This year, from January 1 through now, we already have about 12 cases related to IPR violations, totaling 600 boxes and bags from several brands. It proves that our training and the principle of creating interagency units really works.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

BV: One of the big challenges for this region is that we are confronted with some countries where there is no legislation for IPR. It’s one of my main tasks to visit the countries in the region and the CCP units and try to sensitize governments to adapt their IPR legislation in a way that containers can be stopped and ceased. The Regional UNODC Office in Panama, for example, has the right connections and good relationships with the government. We need to have discussions on this level, as well as with the operational units.

Another big challenge is getting the support that we need from the private sector. As an example, we have Jamaica and the Dominican Republic in our region, which are important transit ports. This means 80 percent of the containers are just passing through, so the countries do not have a vested interest in them, because they’re not getting the revenue. There are several problems that arise in this situation. If they do inspect and seize the goods, they don’t have the storage for them; secondly, they have to have the personnel for it—staff to inspect the containers and to take the case to trial, etc. Thirdly, when an IPR container is retained, the brand owner has to file a complaint with the national authorities to start a procedure. In a lot of cases, the brand owner does not show up to file a complaint, which means the authorities are stuck with a container with a lot of goods taking up storage space. In the end, they only lose. So this is something we’re trying to negotiate better with the private sector. This is partly what we would like to work on with INTA, to make members realize that we need more support from your side.

AdA: One of the key challenges we face in the region is also when governments change. Many of the authorities, even if they are at the director level, move from police to a different sector, or from prosecutors they become judges or private legal counsels, etc. So we want to focus on training, training, training and training to generate a pool of high-level experts who are connected in the region on maritime security and similar matters. In this context, our aim is to establish a Regional Training Center on Maritime Security and Container Control in Panama, spearheaded by the Government of Panama and UNODC.

How can brand owners better assist you?

BV: There are several seminars and trainings held each year to which brand owners are invited. I think those forums provide an opportune moment to have conversations. The World Customs Organization (WCO) has a partnership with the CCP, and the CCP works closely with the WCO IPR section in Brussels as well, so our unit members are invited to participate in workshops in regional and international operations run by the WCO. The WCO is quite important to us because they have an MOU signed with INTA and are in regular contact with other rights associations as well. The WCO has a very close relationship with IP owners, so this is an important advantage. We also work directly with brand owners who show interest in cooperating directly with the program.

It would be nice if the brands holders could provide support in the maritime court by offering storage for seized containers as well. Another important thing would be that our units receive a list of all the main contacts for brand owners in each of the countries. This would mean that when a container is retained, our units would know who to address it to so that they could then have a conversation in real time. Right now, they might not be sure who to send an email to, so it sometimes takes days or weeks to get a response. Another thing would be for brand owners to share intelligence they have that might be a help to our units to take into account in their risk analysis when profiling containers. These are all ways in which the private sector can be useful.

How close is the link between criminal activity and IPR infringements?

BV: In the past, we used to see criminal organizations specialize in one particular issue, such as drugs or arms, for instance. Today, criminal organizations handle anything that generates money. Criminals who deal in IPR infringements are not just doing that anymore. They are often dealing in many other illicit activities as well.

What are your hopes for the program in the future?

AdA: We have the “CCP Sea” which deals with maritime containers, but we are also going to implement the CCP in airports with Air Cargo. It will involve the same principles of interagency units targeting the correct containers. This is really a dream, and if the private sector could support us in this effort, it would help us to launch the first pilot project in Panama. We have the funding to start the CCP air in Cuba as well. Clearly, cargo also flies through the air, so we at CCP think it’s really a necessity to implement the program in the airports. The first pilot project was started in Karachi, Pakistan, and we are hoping for this region to start in Panama or Cuba, or ideally both at the same time.

Why are partnerships with associations like INTA important for you?

BV: For us, INTA is a very important partner. The Association represents so many members on a global basis, just as we are doing with our global program, so I think it’s very important that we are in contact regularly to exchange communications, experiences and in the end to stop as many containers as possible. This is not only an economic issue, but a health issue, so it’s very important. For us, INTA is a kind of a liaison between our CCP officers and the brand owners. INTA is so close to its members that it’s the ideal partner to move forward with to obtain even better results.

The UNODC shared these IPR seizure statistics covering Latin America and the Caribbean.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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