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WeChat, AliExpress added to US Notorious Markets list

Trade watchdog admits China is #1 ... at cranking out counterfeit products, sometimes with forced labor

An updated US Trade Representative's Office register of online and physical markets that reportedly sell or facilitate fake goods has added AliExpress and WeChat to its already China-heavy list.

Released on Thursday, the 2021 Notorious Markets List names 42 online markets and 35 physical facilities accused of copyright infringement or facilitating substantial trademark counterfeiting. Of the markets included, around 20 per cent are based in China. Of the counterfeit kit seized by US authorities in 2020, 79 per cent of it came from China, and that haul accounted for 83 per cent of counterfeit goods by value.

Counterfeiting is not just about cheap knockoffs of designer handbags: fake routers are easy to find and The Register has often read about fake external hard disks that sometimes pack a low-capacity thumb drive and weights to give the device appropriate heft.

"China continues to be the number one source of counterfeit products in the world," according to the document [PDF] detailing the list.

For the first time since the yearly report began in 2011, the list names Alibaba's AliExpress and the Tencent-owned WeChat e-commerce platform.

Alibaba has experience of the list as its e-commerce platform Taobao has made it for the fifth year in succession. Other Chinese entities tied to the nation's big tech platforms include Baidu's cloud storage service Baidu Wangpan, B2B cross-border e-commerce platform DHGate, and social commerce app Pinduoduo.

Complaints from rights holders about the sites typically founder as responses to copyright claims are seldom swift and it is hard to have counterfeit products removed from sale. Many platforms are also accused of of not conducting due diligence to keep bad actors hawking fake goods off thier sites in the first place.

In addition to the six online platforms, nine brick-and-mortar Chinese markets were listed.

The Office reported that foot traffic had declined at many physical counterfeit Chinese markets due to growth in online sales. To avoid confiscation of goods in raids, sellers maintain less physical inventory and offer a larger range online. The physical shops then serve as points of contact for buyers and online sales fulfilment.

The Trade Rep was careful to note that the list is not exhaustive, nor does it reflect legal violations, government analysis of intellectual property, or enforcement-related matters.

However, it did note that enforcement has been somewhat ineffective – as shown by the number of repeat offenders appearing on the list.

In a canned statement, US Traade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai said the sale of counterfeit goods contributes to "exploitative labour practices" and "undermines critical US innovation."

The reminder feels necessary, as the document often reads like a tour guide book – with such nuggets as this one about a Shanghai market:

Described by online tourist directories as "an underground maze" connected to a metro station near Shanghai's popular sights, this market hosts numerous stalls openly offering counterfeit apparel and fashion accessories.

Rights holders report that authorities have not conducted any recent raids on the market and that the majority of the goods are counterfeit.

Beyond the counterfeit merchandise openly on display, some sellers of counterfeit merchandise allegedly also offer "high end" counterfeits on demand via delivery.

Those finding themselves tempted should know the 2021 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy referred to China as "the country with the greatest number of products made with forced labour, including state-sponsored forced labour."

China has credibly and repeatedly been accused of operating forced labour camps – particularly in Xinjiang, a region whose inhabitants are mostly members of the Muslim Uyghur minority.®

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