Counterfeit goods worth a quarter of a trillion pounds a year, says OECD
Fake goods now make up 2.5pc of all international trade and responsible for roughly the same proportion of global economic output as Austria, according to a new study of pirated products.
Based on data from half a million trade and customs seizures over two years, the research suggests that counterfeit products sold across borders were worth £270bn in 2013.
The impact of pirated goods is even greater in Europe, with as much as 5pc of goods imported into the EU thought to be counterfeit, according to the study by the OECD club of rich nations and the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights.
The piracy industry appears to have expanded since 2005, when a more limited study found that counterfeit goods made up about 1.9pc of international trade.
The figures did not include virtual piracy such as file-sharing and unlawful downloads, whose value is more difficult to calculate.
Instead, the most popular items to counterfeit for export were branded shoes, clothes and leather goods, the OECD found. Counterfeiters are increasingly sending their fake goods in small batches through the post, taking advantage of the ascent of online retail to evade detection, the researchers suggested.
“This, in turn, raises the costs of checks and detention for customs and presents additional challenges to enforcement authorities,” they added.
China is overwhelmingly the biggest source of counterfeit goods, with 63pc of all seizures traced back to producers in the country. However, the researchers found that other trade routes for fraudulent goods changed rapidly to exploit gaps in policing.
“Other transit points include economies with very weak governance and having a strong presence of organised criminal or even terrorist networks,” they said.The firms affected by counterfeiting are chiefly in the US and western Europe. Companies in the US were the victim in 20pc of recorded violations of intellectual property rights, followed by Italians with 14.6pc of the total, French with 12.1pc and the Swiss on 11.7pc.
Buyers of counterfeit goods can rarely be certain they are getting value for money, the research suggested, with the asking price for a pair of fake Nike shoes ranging from $5 to $200, and Louis Vuitton handbags varying between $5 and $1,500.
Four in ten Britons admit to buying counterfeit films, music and clothing, according to a 2013 survey by PwC.