In Vietnam, counterfeiters thrive on desire for cheap luxury

By Ngan Anh, Thanh Nien News

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Handbags under the brands of Chanel, Hermes are sold for US$10-30 each in shops in Hanoi’s Hang Ngang Street. Photo: Ngoc Thang Handbags under the brands of Chanel, Hermes are sold for US$10-30 each in shops in Hanoi’s Hang Ngang Street. Photo: Ngoc Thang
Nguyen Thu Ha bought a pair of Gucci shoes for only one-tenth the price of a similar pair she had seen at a store of the Italian luxury brand abroad.
Although they felt quite different on her feet than the pair she had tried, she seemed very happy.
“I know these are fake. I'm not being cheated here. There is no problem because these are nice,” she said.
Like Ha, many consumers in Hanoi enjoy buying counterfeit goods from eyewear, shoes, dresses to handbags even though they know the products are illegal.
Low prices are often the main reason for them to choose knockoff merchandise.
“I don't really want to buy a real Louis Vuitton handbag when I can get a fake one at just 5-10 percent of a real one,” Ha said. “I would buy it when I get richer. But now, cheap products are my choice.”
An official from the Department of the Intellectual Property under the Ministry of Science and Technology said poor awareness of intellectual property rights is the main reason for knock-offs to thrive around the country.
"Although consumers know that the products they are buying may be fake, they still buy them anyway. Both buyers and sellers are happy with this, snubbing the interests of the intellectual property rights owner," he said.
Traders have in fact taken advantage of the growing demand for fake products to considerably expand their sales in recent years.
Men and women wears under well-known international brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry are widely sold at local stores and online. Most of them are of course bogus.
In a Hanoi shop, a pair of Chanel glasses is sold at less than $30, and a Burberry T-shirt at only $20.
Many cosmetic products in the country are also unreliable. Even some Duracell and Energizer batteries, Gillette razors and American Standard toilets are fake. 
Counterfeit products could be seen in almost all industries. But, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products have been widely counterfeited because of high profits, according to the Vietnam Association for Anti-Counterfeiting and Trademark Protection.
Vuong Chi Dung, deputy director of the Hanoi branch of the Market Management Department, said at a recent conference that up to 80 percent of counterfeit goods in Vietnam come from China.
Phan Thi Viet Thu, vice chair of the Consumer Protection Association of Ho Chi Minh City, said with their choices, local consumers have supported fake products.
Her association has hardly received any complaints about counterfeit goods.
“If consumers do not say 'no' to fake products, the trade will continue to grow.”
Experts believe Vietnam is not tough enough on the issue.
Current laws don't impose fines on users of counterfeit products. In many other countries, buying and using such products is considered a crime.
Meanwhile, fines imposed on producers and traders of knock-offs are not high.
Le Quang Dung, chairman of the Cosmetics Association of Ho Chi Minh City, said it is easy to counterfeit cosmetic products.
Firms could just import low-quality materials to produce shampoo, body lotion, shower gel and perfume products, and then slap on a fake label of a famous brand, Dung said. 
With small fines and big profits traders could earn from selling fake products, it seems unlikely that they will change their ways of doing business, he said.
Another reason for the increase of bogus products in the market is that many consumers could not distinguish genuine products from fake ones, particularly pharmaceutical and shampoo products.
There are knock-offs which are so close to the genuine product that only the original manufacturer can tell the difference, said an official from the Market Management Department under the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
“You can only tell if the shampoo you are using is fake after it burns your scalp,” he said.
Weak fight 
Le The Bao, chairman of the Vietnam Association for Anti-Counterfeiting and Trademark Protection, said fake goods are getting more common in Vietnam. 
He said there's also a trend of producing fake goods bearing famous Vietnamese brands.
Counterfeits have caused huge losses to firms, but the affected businesses have not actively cooperated with local authorities in combating the problem, he said.
In fact, the cooperation of firms is very important in the fight against fake products, as they could know how their knock-offs are produced, and where their materials come from, Bao said.
The problem is many firms are concerned that reporting knock-offs will eventually hurt their own sales as consumers who cannot distinguish genuine items and bogus ones may stop using their products completely, he said.
“Some firms also do not want to publicize a method for distinguishing genuine products from fake ones to local market management agencies because they worry the information will somehow reach the counterfeiters.”
Dung of the cosmetics association said because of their limited financial capacity, many Vietnamese firms have not paid much attention to brand protection. Only a few big enterprises register intellectual property rights for new products, he said. 
Meanwhile, anti-counterfeiting measures including stamps, market management and punishment, have been found insufficient to control the situation.
Bao said the irony is that even anti-counterfeiting stamps guaranteeing genuine products can also be counterfeited.
In 2014, local relevant agencies have detected over 220 counterfeiting, smuggling, and trade fraud cases, according to the National Steering Committee on Anti-Smuggling, Trade Frauds and Counterfeiting.

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