Philipsburg – St. Maarten’s First Anti-Counterfeiting and Intellectual Property conference hosted by the Honorable Minister of Justice Anna E. Richardson at the Simpson Bay Resort on September 29th and 30th, has been dubbed a success. Minister Richardson invited corporate brand representatives, international experts, legal minds, business representatives, local distributors and government officials to activate awareness of the manufacturing and trade of counterfeit products in St. Maarten. The conference forms part of the Ministry’s efforts in creating a resilient anti-counterfeiting strategy for St. Maarten.
Minister Richardson stated, “For far too long there have been many brands that have not been established on St. Maarten due to the vast number of counterfeit products being sold locally. This conference was the start of the Ministry’s efforts to shift the paradigm and attract authentic to high-end brands while offering an excellent opportunity for networking, knowledge exchange and collaboration.”
The Ministry highlighted anti-counterfeiting and intellectual property protection during the entire week beginning on September 26th and 27th, with the staff of Customs Department undergoing advanced training on the detection of illicit trade and counterfeiting. The sessions were facilitated by SGS France and carried out by French Customs Officer and world-renown specialist Mr. Christophe Zimmermann who has been involved in the fight against illicit trade with extensive operational and field experience. Controllers of the Ministries of VSA and TEATT were also invited to participate in the advanced training as the detection of counterfeit goods plays a critical role in carrying out their daily tasks.
During the advanced training, the latest techniques for targeting and profiling illicit trade were covered extensively. The participants gained profound knowledge in interpreting the Airway Bill, the Manifest, the Bill of Lading, the detection of counterfeit goods, and new concealment methods. The participants also had the opportunity to practice with real-world examples of the documents mentioned and samples of counterfeited goods, and authentic goods that have been tampered with, with a special focus on the wines and spirits industry.
After the training, the participants indicated that they found great value in the training and that they are now more confident and better equipped to perform their duties. The participants from the different Ministries indicated that they would work together to be more effective in combatting illicit trade. Minister Richardson closed the advanced training sessions by thanking the presenters and the participants and indicated that activating awareness of the crime of counterfeiting and the illicit trade is a high-priority item for the Ministry of Justice.
During the highly-anticipated conference held later in the week, the program was kicked off with opening speeches by the Honorable Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Silveria E. Jacobs, the Honorable Minister of VSA and Acting Minister of TEATT Omar Ottley, as well as the host of the conference, Minister Richardson. A panel discussion followed with a panel of experts consisting of Chief Inspector Food Safety, Ms. Maria van Heyningen, Customs Department Interim Head, Mr. Franklin Bernadina, Moët Hennessy Brand Protection Manager North America, Caribbean and Brazil, Ms. Flavie Jost, PUMA General Counsel and Senior Global Head of Intellectual Property, Mr. Neil Narriman, and the Director of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Intellectual Property Rights Unit, Mr. Victor Barret. The selected experts led a discussion with invited guests who had the opportunity to ask questions in relation to anti-counterfeiting and intellectual property rights, as well as best practices used to tackle these issues.
Prime Minister Jacobs stated, “The government would like to commend this initiative by the Minister of Justice to bring professionals in the field of anti-counterfeiting and intellectual property together to raise the standard on St. Maarten. This allows us to be a place where authenticity can be highlighted, whereby we can attract and maintain high-level brands. While there are laws that already exist in this capacity, more enforcement needs to take place. It was interesting to hear what professionals, as well as businesspersons faced with the reality of rising costs, have to say. It was a great first step in the right direction of what is needed to ensure we are doing the right things for the right reason while bringing awareness to all. We do not want to make as much effort as we do to develop St. Maarten only to be blacklisted as a country that is thriving on counterfeit items, thereby blocking our economic growth potential. So, we must focus on quality over quantity.”
In an invited comment, Minister Ottley stated, “This is an important step for us as a country. We should develop a partnership, rather than just view it as a branding opportunity. I encourage the investors to commit to us in time of disasters and help us to rebuild and rebrand stronger and better.”
Moët Hennessy Brand Protection Manager, Ms. Jost stated the following in an invited comment, “I was very honored to participate as a speaker at the conference. It was a valuable opportunity to raise awareness of the potential risks implied by the illicit trade of alcohol, not only for Moët Hennessy but for all the industries that required special attention in terms of consumer protection. In addition, my main input is to bet on education and awareness: prevention is better than cure. It is one of the solutions to empower all the stakeholders and invite them to play their part. Furthermore, the diversity of attendees was a great choice, I never experienced this before. I think it was interesting to also hear about the traders of St. Maarten and sensitize them on some important topics related to the safety of the goods that they probably trade without knowing the risks. It was wise to gather all the stakeholders around the table, it is the only way to switch the paradigm.”
Minister Richardson stated, “I’d like to thank all the brand representatives, international experts, government officials, international stakeholders and DISOSA Brand Protection Services for taking the time to fly to St. Maarten from their various countries to attend this international platform. The information shared was vital in the Ministry’s efforts to bring awareness of counterfeiting and intellectual property infringement practices in St. Maarten. With this first step in the right direction, we must now ensure that quality and authenticity are part of our community of St. Maarten.”
The conference was concluded with a networking session where invited guests and stakeholders were able to network, during a cocktail party courtesy of Moët Hennessy. Following the conference, a sophisticated strategy will now be outlined on how St. Maarten can be redirected away from being listed as a black-market territory and restore its position as an attractive jurisdiction for brands to establish their business. The Ministry of Justice will continue to implement measures that contribute to realizing a safe and attractive St. Maarten for residents, business owners, brands and tourists.