ACTIV, the only NGO in Romania dedicated to combating illegal trade through information and education actions for the public, organized on Monday, February 21st, for the first time in our country, the International Conference “Illicit trade of tobacco products in South-Eastern Europe, Routes-Transformations-Trends”.
The conference brought together, in Bucharest, the representatives of important international organizations with competences in preventing and combating the illegal trade of tobacco products (FRONTEX, SELEC, EUBAM), as well as representatives of the Customs, Police and Border Police structures from Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania. Also among the guests are representative institutions from the Region, such as: EU Advisory Mission Ukraine (EUAM Ukraine) and the EU Delegation to the Republic of Moldova, members of the Romanian Parliament, representatives of the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of National Defense, DIICOT, representatives of the tobacco industry.
The conference represents the first step in a series of events with a regional character and international participation that aim to bring together, at the initiative of ACTIV, all the actors involved in preventing and combating illicit trade of goods. The initiative aims to stimulate dialogue and strengthen collaboration between law enforcement institutions representing the European Union, Romania, Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria and Ukraine, political decision-makers, industries affected by smuggling, civil society.
Thus, through collaboration at regional level, using the examples of good practices provided by international bodies, it will be analyzed the important transformations in the dynamics of illicit trade of tobacco products in the context of the pandemic, based on which it will be possible to anticipate the evolution of the phenomenon in the next period.
“Illicit trade and marketing of counterfeit tobacco products are perceived by important segments of the population as illicit activities without social danger, which do not harm the state or consumers, this attitude being also reflected in the lack of cooperation with law enforcement institutions. The causes of this phenomenon are: the significantly lower price of the illicit product, the low purchasing power of the population, the contestation of the state’s capacity to efficiently spend the amounts from taxation, the high accessibility of illicit products”, says Daniel Mărăcineanu, ACTIV coordinator.
“The event is a trigger for an extremely constructive and useful dialogue, in the context in which the mechanisms are constantly changing: from classical smuggling to clandestine production and counterfeiting. The joint efforts are necessary both for an adequate adaptation of the legislation and for an efficient cooperation at inter-institutional level, as well as for the authorities with the civic society”, said Lucian Heiuș, State Secretary at the Ministry of Finance.
“Today’s meeting was a good opportunity to approach and initiate coordination regarding the activities of preventing and combating the illicit trade of cigarettes and tobacco products that the customs authorities of Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Bulgaria are carrying out in this area of Europe. On this occasion, during the discussions and exchange of best practices in the field of customs anti-fraud, we highlighted the sustained efforts of the Romanian customs officials in relation to preventing and combating this phenomenon, also proven by the maintenance below 10%, in the last two years, of the annual average level of the consumption of contraband cigarettes, as well as by the increase, by 9% in 2021 compared to 2020, of the revenues collected to the state budget coming from the excise duties for tobacco products. The smuggling of cigarettes and tobacco products is a complex phenomenon, which can be effectively prevented and combated through collaboration between public authorities of the state, through partnerships concluded by them with the honest business environment, as well as through international cooperation between authorities operating at the border crossing points located at the common border of Romania with neighboring states”, said the President of the Romanian Customs Authority, Bogdan Lari MIHEI.
“Preventing and combating the smuggling of excise goods is a priority and permanent objective of the Romanian Border Police, both through its own institutional approaches and through collaboration with other state structures or with representatives of the civic society. In regions near the borders, cigarettes are the most trade products. Consequently, border guards are on the front line to combat cigarette smuggling, a phenomenon that causes major damage to the state budget. Also, adjacent to the damages brought to the state budget, the illegal trade of cigarettes can feed other criminal layers with a cross-border dimension, including the one represented by organized crime. The Romanian Border Police will continue to take, together with the other competent institutions, firm measures in all areas of competence, in order to detect and sanction the persons involved in the illegal trafficking of consumer goods (including cigarettes), as well as to detain in order to confiscate the trade goods and to destructure the criminal groups”, said Senior Quaestor of Police Liviu Bute, the head of the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Border Police.
“Together with the other law enforcement authorities, the Border Police actively contributes on multiple levels to countering criminal phenomena and ensuring stability and security at the EU’s external border. I am firmly convinced that thanks to the exchange of information, which takes place in parallel with the control measures, an efficient operational cooperation will be maintained and developed in the field of implementation of the EU policy on integrated management of the external borders, the strengthening of cooperation in countering criminal phenomena, the fight against illegal migration and other related illicit activities”, said Chief Commissioner Rosian VASILOI, Head of the IGPF of the Republic of Moldova.
“We welcome the presence at the first regional debate organized by ACTIV Association of the representatives of the authorities with attributions in the field of combating illicit trade in Romania, as well as from Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria, and of some members of the Romanian Parliament and we thank them for their openness and declared support for the civic society initiatives in this context. BAT stays together with its partners in the effort to combat the illicit trade of cigarettes, with the conviction that only through such joint actions, constructive dialogue and a predictable and sustainable fiscal framework we can achieve the reduction of the smuggling phenomenon, with a significant impact on the economic development, safety of consumers and legitimate businesses in Romania. It is desirable that this fight be intensified not only in Romania, but also in the surrounding countries, and this regional debate is certainly a significant step in this regard”, mentioned Ileana Dumitru, Legal and Public Relations Director of the Central and Southern Europe Area within BAT.
“We want today’s meeting to be a good start for the implementation at regional level of the best practices that have proven their efficiency, whether we are talking about legislation, operational experience in the field, the use of state-of-the-art equipment or informing the population about the profoundly negative effects of smuggling. This close collaboration, doubled by the support of international institutions, will certainly lead to the decrease of the illegal trade of cigarettes and, implicitly, to the securing of budget revenues, the economic development of communities at the borders and the strengthening of border security”, said Gilda Lazar, Director Corporate Affairs & Communications JTI Romania, Moldova and Bulgaria.
“We hope that this event will be a signal of the intensification of the collaboration between the authorities with responsibilities in the field and the legal economic operators in the tobacco industry in combating the phenomenon of illicit trade of cigarettes. PMI attaches great importance to public private partnership, as evidenced by the PMI Impact programme, where we are partners of law enforcement authorities in the fight against illicit trafficking in tobacco products. Since 2016, $48 million has been allocated out of a total of 100 million for anti-smuggling projects carried out by public, private institutions and non-governmental organizations. Another important tool for combating the illicit trafficking of tobacco products that should be used by the authorities in the region, and not only, is the “Protocol for the Elimination of Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”. By ratifying it by the member states in the FCTC, they will be able to contribute decisively to the elimination of the illicit trade in cigarettes”, said Adrian Gavrilă, Illicit Trade Prevention Manager, PMI.