Opinion: Arizona business community up to task of stamping out illegal trade

Arizona business leaders have been rallying against the dangers of illegal trade, creating partnerships with national institutions and between the private and public sector to respond to this crisis. Illegal trade presents a continuing threat to Arizona’s economic prosperity and public safety, and leaders with diverse backgrounds have come together to find common solutions.

The smuggling of illegal and counterfeit goods is nothing new for our state. Because of our 370-mile-long border with Mexico, Arizona often sees the worst of these criminal activities. In 2017, federal authorities seized more than $13 million in smuggled currency, third most in the nation.

The profits criminal organizations accumulate from smuggling at the border are often used to finance an escalation in criminal activity. Because of this recycling of illegal funds, Arizona has the 13th highest rate of human trafficking in the country, with nearly 1,400 cases since 2007.

The burdens wrought by illegal trade can be devastating to commerce and public safety. Cigarette smuggling alone leads to $125 million every year in lost tax revenue. In 2021, nearly $1.3 billion was lost in retail thefts.

It’s not just money. Illegal trade puts lives at risk. Massive fentanyl seizures are commonplace. In recent weeks, a cache of fentanyl precursor chemicals was seized from a Tucson warehouse. Because of the scale and complexity of illegal trade, business leaders must create partnerships that mobilize community resources.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry has been proud to support United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT), a private-public partnership that protects Americans from black market criminals. Last December, the Chamber was recognized with the 2022 Award for Most Committed USA-IT Partner for its dedicated work on the frontlines of the illegal trade issue.

These partnerships build upon the work of business leaders, law enforcement, and policy experts to understand the many facets of illegal trade and to develop strategies to combat them.

This work is exceedingly important as Arizona prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of out-of-state visitors to our state for the Waste Management Phoenix Open and Super Bowl LVII. These mega-events are economic drivers and present an unparalleled opportunity to showcase Arizona. And while we like to focus on the enormous potential to attract prospective business, we also must recognize the potential to attract bad actors.

It is not uncommon to see an uptick in illicit trade, counterfeit merchandise and ticket sales, human trafficking, and related illegal activity during the Super Bowl. Fortunately, Arizona is not new to hosting major sporting events, and we’re confident our law enforcement, tourism sector, and broader business community are better prepared than ever to mitigate and address these issues. With their commitment and collaboration – and the vigilance of all residents and visitors – we can ensure another safe and successful Super Bowl experience for all.

At the Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber last month, Arizona’s new Attorney General Kris Mayes shared her commitment to address this issue. The partnerships which are being made with state and federal officials, USA-IT, and the business community will be essential in taking on this challenge and in defending the security and economy of our state.

Mike Bailey is general counsel and director of legal reform programs for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Mike Bailey

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