THE problem of fake-branded electronic goods on sale in Cambodia is big, ever-growing, but as yet unsolvable. The good news is Cambodia is not alone.
Law enforcers from 11 nations gathered in Phnom Penh last week to share ideas on how to tackle hard goods counterfeiting. But no solution was forthcoming, according to the Ministry of Commerce intellectual property rights department Deputy Director Sim Sokheng.
“This is a problem. But every country is facing the same problem – not just us. Even America,” he says.
“At the workshop we discussed the problem, but in terms of a solution we have not come up with a concrete one just yet. However, we did agree at the workshop that the best way to fight is to not fight alone.
“We have to build up a network between the law enforcement agencies, the investigators, the police and work on it together because the goods are coming through from other countries.”
Over 50 law enforcement investigators and public prosecutors attended a three-day workshop on investigating and prosecuting hard goods counterfeiting and digital piracy. Presentations from the US and Singapore were key drawcards, Sim Sokheng said.
“They have good experience with dealing with this. We went to listen and to learn from them as well,” he said.
But despite the presence of the heavyweights, no resolution was forthcoming. Part of the problem is that the government doesn’t know how big the problem is, or how much it is affecting Cambodia’s genuine goods distributors.
“We haven’t got [those figures] yet, as we haven’t fully collected that data. We will try to find out these things now because the enforcers have to know … themselves in order to set up the networks with other countries,” Sim Sokheng said.
Electronic goods distributor Sunsimexco Marketing Director Taing Sothearith estimates that about 5,000 counterfeit television sets and some 10,000 DVD sets are distributed into Cambodia every month. He said he understands that the goods are mainly brought in as parts and assembled here to avoid paying import tax.
DVD players are one of the major goods “faked” because there is high demand from the consumer, and they’re cheap to make, he said.
Ironically, the counterfeit dealer is often the same dealer who sells to Sunsimexco, so Taing Sothearith knows who they are.
He says the company is taking action on the problem by asking the dealers to stop selling fake and faulty goods, but it won’t seek penalties.
“[The dealers] complain to me that they can’t make money with the real brand – they make more with the fakes,” he said.
“We won’t ask for a penalty because we don’t want any trouble with the dealer. We don’t want to lose supply.”
Taing Sothearith’s frustration with counterfeit goods is not so much loss of profits but rather lost opportunity.
“We don’t lose money, but we lose opportunity because the customers no longer trust our quality. They buy the fake product and then after two or three months the product breaks down, or it has bad service, so they wonder how come it’s so bad and they don’t trust the brand anymore.”
However for the consumer, perhaps brand is not the issue. It’s simply a question of price.
Nouv Pithou, 28, says he has bought fake-branded goods before, knowing it was fake, because it was the cheaper option.
“We know it’s not really Sony. We don’t care if it’s Sony or not – we just see the price and we buy,” he says.
He says many people in Cambodia have no choice but to buy the counterfeit goods, regardless of the quality risks.
“My income is not bad, I would say, but I would still buy the Chinese product instead of the Japanese one because of the price,” he said. “We recognise buying the Chinese products has more risks but we will still use it.”
He says TVs and DVD players are the most popular goods to buy counterfeit because the fakes are so much cheaper than the genuine article, whereas counterfeit refrigerators or air-conditioners, for example, do not offer the same cost saving.
He says a genuine Sony DVD player might cost up to US$200, whereas a “Sony from China” DVD sells for $100, and sometimes as little as $30.
“One Japanese product can buy you 10 or 20 Chinese products. So that’s why we buy.”