On Tuesday, a collective of public and private parties formed United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT), a public education initiative to raise awareness about black market trade and its severe consequences to human welfare and the economy.
The program will also provide local officials, law enforcement and brand experts with training to help tackle these illicit dealings across Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas—states that are all facing critical trade issues, it said. USA-IT’s website features resources for concerned citizens seeking to report crimes of all kinds in these states, ranging from drug trafficking to Custom and Border Protection complaints.
“Since January 2020, the sale of online counterfeit goods has jumped nearly 40 percent,” said Matt Albence, USA-IT spokesman and former director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Counterfeit and smuggled goods pose serious threats in many states, and the situation has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added, noting that criminals have particularly seized on opportunities to traffic in counterfeit personal protective equipment and medications, including Covid-19 vaccines.
According to research from Euromonitor International, the black market has burgeoned into business worth $509 billion per year, and its influence is only continuing to radiate outward. Amid the pandemic, bad actors have profited from revenues meant to provide American citizens with access to essential services, USA-IT said. Underground groups exploit governments and citizens while manipulating financial systems, and in many cases, their illegal dealings fund the trafficking of drugs and even people.
Because no single industry or government has been able to quash the issue on its own, USA-IT will rely on the cooperation of public and private entities. It aims to fully leverage the expertise of its members through information sharing, while harnessing the capabilities of evolving technologies and innovative solutions.
A number of apparel and footwear-related trade groups and brands including the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the United States Council for International Business, the Florida Retail Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, Levi Strauss & Co. and Tommy Hilfiger have signed onto the effort, which boasts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and multiple state chambers as members. Law enforcement groups like the Police Officers Association of Michigan and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have also joined the cause.
“In today’s hyper-connected world—with growing worries about global security, the proliferation of criminal organizations, and a surge of new digital tools—concerted efforts and broad public-private cooperation are vital for implementing meaningful, long-term solutions against illegal trade,” Albence said.
The news comes just weeks after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a joint initiative to prevent counterfeit and pirated goods from being imported into the country through a memorandum of understanding regarding information sharing. The goal of the project is to enhance intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, CBP executive assistant commissioner William A. Ferrara and U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark said.
“This memorandum of understanding establishes a first-of-its-kind framework for public-private collaboration on combatting counterfeit and pirated goods,” Ferrara said at the time, noting that the information sharing between agencies will “strengthen our ability to defend intellectual property standards that generate American jobs, save lives and enhance our economic prosperity.”
CBP also formalized a partnership with Nike in May, as a part of its Donations Acceptance Program, in which the athleticwear giant shares its proprietary technology with the agency as a means of helping to authenticate its merchandise and prevent counterfeits from gaining entry into the U.S. market. Nike’s authentication tool will be tested at a number of international mail and consignment facilities, they said.