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Fake goods: Cutting our coats according to our waists

16th December 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

Industries and Trade Minister Dr Abdallah Kigoda told a section of the business community that he has declared war against sub-standard goods and fake commodities of various sorts.

This campaign is not the first to be engaged in that area, and indeed at some point in the past the ministry, working with regulatory authorities, has moved to destroy tons of substandard electronics where at times the use of an apparatus doesn’t last beyond the lighting up, or the first day of use.

It is at times a situation of outright theft, where it isn’t even quality of use that is at issue, but whether one bought any usable object or was just conned.

There is also another dimension of fake goods which constitute a mountain of trouble and at times worsening disease to incurable proportions by using what is ordinarily a dose, but from a medicine brand that is underweight in terms of the key treatment material or compounds.

At times medicine that was recommended by the government brought untold complications on users, not to say horrors, for instance sulfur bearing fansidar medicine, though a section of users found it perfectly well to treat malaria symptoms. In one instance, adulterated Chinese baby milk formulas had artificial strengtheners; babies died in various countries.

That is why the whole problem of substandard goods, fake medicines or expired and tainted foods cannot be handled lightly, for at times it is a matter of life and death for users.

But often there is a reasonable level of competition among brands, each with a specific market in the sense of classes of users, while unavoidably trying to reach other sections of any national market in which the brand is sold. 

So long as significant or substantial differences exist between products, it is possible to classify one as relatively substandard, but the problem doesn’t become a commercially valid issue unless it has either dangers to its use  or simply unusable.

The ministry’s overall thrust with regard to substandard products is essentially imported goods, as it is also said that there is huge revenue losses because substandard goods enter through ‘panya routes,’ which seems exaggerated, as there are patrols all over the place.

Most imports are duly brought via ports and bought by merchants who know what products sell in the market, and they realize that one can’t just seek out standard brands as hardly anyone can afford to buy, which calls for policy realism that most users need the cheapest available product for anything. Saying they are being cheated by the price is illogical; it is to deny poverty.

Looking at the campaign closely, it looks as if it is a careful adaptation of the traditional argument to protect industries against subsidized goods from outside, or unfairly imported via the old Zanzibar route (now replaced by offloading ships at sea to waiting boats).

The problem is that the market has no safeguards ensuring that anyone’s goods in particular will be bought, and if the ministry will take measures to stop ‘substandard’ imported goods so that proper brands produced locally can be sold at prices that the manufacturers want, it intensifies the level of dissatisfaction with economic life. They may applaud such measures at the start.

In other words the watchword for any ministerial action in that regard should be threefold, first against harmful medicines that do not treat, just packed with calcium (etc), second against foods that have expired or have questionable material and especially when it comes to baby foods, and thirdly, outright unusable commodities especially in electronics.

In that case the issue is to avoid people being cheated or harmed, not to protect local industries as few people in this country have living wages supporting proper quality commodities, from hard top motor vehicles to brand radios, watches, mobile phones, etc. Tricks, protectionism stir chaos.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY