Arizona business leaders are joining forces with their colleagues across the nation to raise awareness about the dangers of illegal trade and counterfeit goods. While illicit trade may not typically be the topic of headlines, illegal smuggling of counterfeit goods hurts local business owners, saddles law-abiding citizens with higher taxes, and presents national security and public safety concerns.
Annually, $464 billion of counterfeit and pirated goods are brought into the U.S., and we’ve seen an increase of 40% of online counterfeited goods since January of 2020. Cigarette smuggling alone leads to an annual billion-dollar loss in unpaid state and local taxes. It all adds up to billions of dollars in the pockets of transnational criminal organizations. Additional losses are taking place in the retail sector, as organized retail crime has surged due to looters this holiday season. Just last week, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued an explicit warning to criminals and cited the vigilant work of the Organized Retail Crime Task Force in his office.
Why does this matter for Arizona? Trade crimes, like counterfeiting and retail crime, are not victimless; the same criminal organizations that smuggle illegal and counterfeit goods are also often responsible for trafficking drugs and people. These criminals sneak across our 370-mile border with Mexico and bring a wide range of illegal contraband with them. These illegal products, whether it be counterfeit cigarettes and merchandise or more nefarious items such as weapons and drugs, are incredibly harmful to our communities. Recently, federal agents seized 1.7 million fentanyl pills in Scottsdale—enough of the lethal opioid to kill countless Arizonans.
While law enforcement is doing everything it can, the problem is too complex to handle alone. Only through strategic and dynamic partnerships can we protect consumers from dangerous products and help our small businesses and communities thrive. United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT) is a public-and-private-sector partnership protecting Americans’ security and prosperity from black market criminals. USA-IT is working closely with Arizona coalition members to provide training for law enforcement officials and education materials for the general public.
Recently, I had the opportunity to join national members of the USA-IT coalition in Washington, D.C., for a summit that brought together business leaders, law enforcement, and policy experts to highlight the urgent need to tackle illegal trade—including counterfeiting, smuggling, organized retail theft, and drug and human trafficking. Arizona’s own Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Louisianna’s Senator Bill Cassidy spoke about the direct, urgent risks to local communities that accompany illegal trade.
Subject matter experts from large and small companies, law enforcement agents, and policy experts discussed how illegal trade funds terrorism, the new challenges confronting law enforcement, and the imperative role that public-private partnerships play in minimizing illegal trade.
Following the summit, USA-IT presented policy recommendations to members of Congress with the goal of fighting back against illegal trade and bolstering support for local law enforcement. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry is a proud partner of USA-IT and will do everything it can to join USA-IT in these efforts. To create obstacles for these criminals is to defend Arizona’s small businesses, protect our border, minimize American overdoses, and bolster the American economy. Let us stand together in partnership and make an impactful difference in the new year.
Michael Bailey is General Counsel of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry