Casablanca still an Eldorado of counterfeiting and piracy

Counterfeiting and pirated products in Morocco are worth $1.27 billion, which represents more than 1% of the country’s GDP.
Sunday 01/04/2018
Mushrooming phenomenon. Fake Gucci purses on display at a shop in the Old Medina.   (Saad Guerraoui)
Mushrooming phenomenon. Fake Gucci purses on display at a shop in the Old Medina. (Saad Guerraoui)

CASABLANCA - A Gucci belt costs $20, a Nike tracksuit goes for $25 and Calvin Klein trunks for $2.70. The prices are too good to be true because the products are fakes.

Casablanca has become the Eldorado of counterfeiting and piracy. The overwhelming majority of the fake items come from China but some are made locally. Most customers would not notice the difference between counterfeit and genuine goods because even the makers’ labels look authentic.

Shops in Loqria, Derb Ghellef and Old Medina markets are proof of the magnitude of this underground industry.

“Skinny Zara jeans are for 200 dirhams ($22) but I can drop the price for you if you’re interested,” Lhoussein, a shop owner at the Old Medina, told a customer.

From shoes to jackets, Lhoussein’s shop is awash with counterfeited clothes. A few metres away, a street vendor sells handbags that appear to be from Gucci and Louis Vuitton but are forgeries.

“These bags all come from China,” said the vendor who would not give his name.

Sellers insist that the counterfeited merchandise lands in Casablanca’s port but Lotfi Abourizk, a former customs official, denied that the faked products were being shipped to Moroccan ports. He claims they come through Spanish ports in Ceuta and Melilla.

Counterfeiting and pirated products in the North African country are worth $1.27 billion, which represents more than 1% of the country’s GDP, figures released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a March 15 report indicated.

The OECD pointed out that the proliferation of free zones was a factor behind boosting counterfeiting because smugglers benefit from reduced taxes and lax customs controls.

The most recent report of Morocco’s Customs Administration, from 2016, revealed that suspension motions totalled 386, up from 278 in 2015, following requests filed by patent attorneys or legal representatives of the brands. More than 5 million items were seized in 2016, nearly twice as many as the previous year, the report said.

The counterfeit sector generates an annual tax loss of nearly $109 million and nearly 30,000 destroyed or informal jobs, officials said.

Abourizk said authorities cannot eradicate counterfeiting because it employs thousands of people.

“Many companies are not bothered to take on counterfeiters in Morocco, which puts less pressure on authorities to intervene,” he said.

In Derb Ghellef market, from Photoshop to Microsoft Office, pirated software CDs are sold for as little as 50 US cents. Not far from pirated software sellers are dozens of shops selling fake eyeglass frames and sunglasses.

“This frame is a good fake because it’s not made of plastic that is easily breakable,” said the shop owner, showing the $43 Calvin Klein pair, whose price would be much higher if it were genuine.

Rabat is boosting enforcement capabilities to meet its international commitments in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. It recently tasked the Royal Gendarmerie with intervening in cases involving the seizure and search of sites suspected of counterfeit activities.

Fines have been raised from 30,000 to 100,000 dirhams ($3,300 to $10,900) against drivers who refuse to obey an injunction at the motorways. Article 225 stipulates that counterfeiting is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and or a fine of 1 million dirhams ($109,000). In the case of imitation, the maximum penalty is 6 months in prison and a fine of 500,000 dirhams ($54,500).

These measures are far from a deterrent and counterfeiting is mushrooming in Morocco despite the risk of legal action against traders and due to customers’ interest in designer brands.

Morocco has also become an exporter of counterfeited products through the illegal channels of sub-Saharan Africans residing in the country.

A shop owner in Loqria said that black African customers have become some of their most profitable clients because they buy counterfeited clothes and shoes, including the non-desired sizes, wholesale.

“Why didn’t the authorities get rid of the Loqria and Derb Ghellef markets once for all?” asked Abourizk, calling on the government to lower duties on some imported goods to counter counterfeiting.