NEW YORK — A coalition of retail trade associations, manufacturers and other public and private groups launched a new public education initiative aimed at combating black market trade.
Entitled "United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT)," the campaign will run through 2021 and provide local officials, law enforcement and thought leaders with information and training programs to help tackle illegal trade and raise public awareness of the depth of the problem, as well as the severe consequences inflicted on states and municipalities by black market profiteers.
"Counterfeit and smuggled goods pose serious threats in many states, and the situation has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with criminals seizing on opportunities to traffic in counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE) and medications — including vaccines," said Matt Albence, USA-IT spokesman and former director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "Since January 2020, the sale of online counterfeit goods has jumped nearly 40 percent."
According to USA-IT, the black market is a $509 billion-per-year business and growing. Criminals get rich from illegal trade by robbing revenues meant to provide essential services to Americans. Instead of helping taxpayers, that money is used to fund those who illegally traffic in drugs, tobacco, wildlife and, even people, the coalition reported. These groups exploit governments and citizens, manipulate financial systems, spur corruption and cultivate instability and violence.
In particular, state and local legislation designed to restrict smoking has often had the effect of spurring black market activities.
"Illegal trade is a serious problem for consumers and businesses in every industry. Regardless of the commodity, criminal networks are hurting law abiding citizens and damaging our economy to fund their nefarious activity," said Kristin Reif, USA-IT member and director of external affairs for Philip Morris International.
The coalition will operate in eight states facing critical illegal trade issues, including Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas.
"Pennsylvania's food and beverage retail industry is no stranger to the challenges posed by criminals operating in the black market. Organized retail theft is a growing problem here in Pennsylvania and across the country," said Alex Baloga, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association. "No company or organization can singlehandedly defeat this problem. Only through partnerships between the public and private sectors like USA-IT can we finally rein in the criminal networks harming our communities through illegal trade."
The Florida Petroleum and Marketers Association is also supportive of the USA-IT.
"We have a long history of working collaboratively with law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to combat threats to hard-working business owners and this effort is a great example of that work," the association said.
The USA-IT is composed of national and state brand enforcement experts, law enforcement agencies and leading business organizations, including:
- American Apparel and Footwear Association
- Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Center at Michigan State University
- Arizona Trucking Association
- Florida Petroleum Marketers Association
- Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association
- Florida Retail Federation
- GrindStone Strategic Consulting
- Illinois Fuel & Retail Association
- Illinois Manufacturers Association
- Illinois Retail Merchants Association
- International Coalition Against Illicit Economies
- Investigative Consultants
- Levi Strauss & Co.
- Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
- Merck & Co. Inc.
- Michigan Chamber of Commerce
- Michigan Retailers Association
- Michigan Trucking Association
- National Association of Manufacturers
- National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center
- Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry
- Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association
- Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association
- Police Officers Association of Michigan
- Philip Morris International
- Procter & Gamble Co.
- Tommy Hilfiger
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- United States Council for International Business
For more information about USA-IT's efforts and to get involved, visit USAIT.org.