The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a pervasive issue here in Michigan that operates in the shadows at great cost to residents illegal trade. Whether it involves drugs, people, weapons, cigarettes or a knock-off pair of Adidas shoes, illegal trade is a growing problem exacerbated by COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit, criminals quickly maneuvered to flood the market with fake and inferior personal protective equipment and other COVID-related products. Since the beginning of the pandemic, online counterfeited goods have jumped nearly 40%. The roughly $1 trillion industry of transnational crime facilitated by illegal trade harms everyone and requires a united and collaborative effort to reduce the damage it inflicts on our society.
Here in Michigan, we know that our common border with Canada offers traffickers numerous opportunities. Border access points are frequently misused by drug smugglers. Prime locations like this become major conduits for illegal trade, and more hands need to be working toward stopping the influx of contraband.
Illegal trade and black market goods cause a lot of harm to our state, stealing millions of dollars from tax revenues that could be spent on improving Michigan services like infrastructure and education. For example, data from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy last year showed that Michigan loses more than $207 million in tax revenues each year due to illegal smuggling of tobacco products alone.
This is why we joined United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT), a partnership of national and state brand enforcement experts, law enforcement agencies and leading business organizations dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of illegal trade.
The coalition is raising awareness in Michigan and other states across the country while leveraging our collective, vast expertise to share resources and provide training programs with local officials, law enforcement and other thought leaders to help combat these insidious acts and the criminals who commit them.
To many, buying smuggled cigarettes or knock-off sneakers may seem like victimless crimes, but they are far from it. The funds these organizations earn by selling black market goods are used to bolster their other nefarious activities. These criminals are the same criminals who traffic in weapons, drugs and even people. We cannot let this criminal activity continue to harm our communities.
As criminal enterprises continue to devise new strategies and practices to evade law enforcement, we must bring more tools to the table to keep pace with black market ingenuity.
This involves sharing knowledge of illegal trade with the public so they are aware of what happens in the shadows, while also working with law enforcement and local governments to target these operations, and empowering lawmakers, organizations and our communities with the tools needed to act.
It is clear there will not be an immediate or easy fix, and no one government or single industry can address this complex problem on its own. When facing such dynamic adversaries, it is important that we always stay prepared for the next challenge.
Through the work of partnerships like USA-IT, we can work toward holding the perpetrators of illegal trade accountable and ensure a more secure and prosperous Michigan.
Dan Papineau is the director of tax policy and regulatory affairs for the Michigan Chamber Of Commerce.