A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report on transnational organised crime in the Asia-Pacific region has concluded that the flow of counterfeit consumer goods from East Asia to the US and the EU was worth around $24.4bn in 2010.
Citing figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Customs Organization (WCO), the report concludes that counterfeiting accounts for around 2 per cent of world trade, with two-thirds of all fakes seized originating from China.
The threats to public health and safety arising from these activities are manyfold. The goods themselves may be hazardous - for example fake baby food, dangerous toys or tainted milk - and are likely to be made in exploitative working conditions putting worker safety at risk.
Meanwhile, the organisations involved in their trafficking are often also linked to other crime types such as prostitution, money laundering and human trafficking, and their activities facilitate corruption and lead to lost government revenues, for example from import duties and sales taxes.
The report also takes a look at the people behind the trade in counterfeit consumer goods and points to anecdotal links between organised crime gangs in China and Italian mafia, suggesting that in at least some instances complex, sophisticated criminal networks are behind the trafficking.
The report also covers the trade in fraudulent medicines from East Asia to Southeast Asia and Africa, which it estimates is worth around $5bn in 2010.