EU Locked in 'Long Battle' against Chinese Fraud
Europe's "long battle" against fake goods from China has become even more difficult with the upsurge in online shopping, where fraudulent and often dangerous products were being sold, an EU official said Tuesday.
"The biggest, most worrying border is between China and your home," said Ernesto Bianchi, head of the investigations directorate in the EU's anti-fraud office OLAF that tackles customs fraud and counterfeit goods.
Bianchi, speaking at a news conference summing up OLAF's work last year, was quick to point out however that he was referring to "gangs of fraudsters" in China, and not China itself.
"They are affected as we are also" by fraud, he said, noting that criminal organisations often used the same trade channels to smuggle unwanted toxic waste from the West into China.
OLAF has had successes blocking shoddy Chinese ripoffs -- including a five-million-euro ($5.5-million) shipment of counterfeit shampoo seized earlier this year with the help of Colombian and Mexican authorities.
But Bianchi said investigators were caught in a constant cat-and-mouse game with criminal groups which adapted quickly against law enforcement.
Of all the counterfeit products coming out of China, pesticides made from toxic chemicals "are the most scary of them all," he said, jeopardizing the health of humans -- and also of bees, threatening whole ecosystems.
The rise of internet shopping has added an extra level of complication, not only for the fight against fake goods but also for cracking down on customs duty evasion.
While OLAF already has its hands full tracking and stopping big cargoes of illicit shipments, the explosion of online sales -- from for instance Amazon or its Chinese rival Alibaba -- has made sleuthing even more difficult.
"We think the fraud pattern has shifted to e-commerce," Bianchi said.
Internet titans are already in the EU's sights for antitrust and data breaches, with Amazon and Google both fined for breaking European rules.