• Cambodian Counter Counterfeit Committee (CCC) was launched in 2014
  • Its ambassador calls on brands to “reach out and engage” with government
  • Opportunity for companies to shape the country’s IP ecosystem

In an exclusive interview with World Trademark Review, Ainsley Jong, goodwill ambassador for the Cambodian Counter Counterfeit Committee (CCC), has called on international brands to engage with the Cambodian government to help shape the country’s brand protection environment. The invitation comes at a time of booming economic growth, with more companies expected to enter the market in the coming years.

Cambodia has experienced a prolonged period of economic expansion, with growth of 6.8% expected this year and 6.9% in 2018. In terms of brand activity, however, Jong notes that “a lot of companies have not historically had an eye on Cambodia, perhaps because traditionally it was seen as a small developing market and therefore wasn’t on their radar. But Cambodia is now experiencing a lot of growth, with more investment expected – for example, through China’s ‘One Belt, One Road,’ initiative. So we are now seeing major brands start to tiptoe into Cambodia, particularly now the middle class is getting bigger”.

In the most recent Illicit Trade Environment Index, which provides a ranking of 17 Asia-Pacific economies based on their performance in four areas (intellectual property; transparency and trade; customs environment; and supply and demand), Cambodia came in at 15th overall – suggesting that there is much to be done. In general terms, though, the rankings more or less track according to income levels, and as economic growth continues it can be expected that the intellectual property and customs regimes will strengthen in parallel. For the government, mindful that international investment is a major economic driver, there has clearly been a recognition set that it does need to invest in anti-counterfeiting and brand protection efforts in a bid to create an attractive environment to do business in. That led, in 2014, to Cambodia’s deputy prime minister Samdech Krolahom Sar Kheng initiating the CCC. The national committee’s objectives including investigations into counterfeiting activities, the education of consumers about fake products, the facilitation of law enforcement training and the collaboration with national and global institutions.

In terms of the make-up of the CCC, it brings together enforcement authorities, customs, judges and representatives from inter-ministerial bodies, including the ministries of public health, justice and commerce. This year it has engaged in a number of high profile raids; in March, for instance, a raid on three warehouses resulted in the seizure of 30 tonnes of fake cosmetic products. In a bid to step up its activities, however, in August, Jong – the former head of the intellectual property rights branch of the Singapore Police Force and member of Singapore’s Inter-Ministry Committee on IPR – was enlisted to the effort and conferred the title of goodwill ambassador. In this role, as well as lending his experience to the creation of enforcement infrastructure in the country, his remit includes connecting with international brands and encouraging increased interaction with the CCC.

On the latter, he therefore has a plea to international brands: get involved and help facilitate the creation of an IP ecosystem that they can benefit from in the future. He explains: “One of first things I did was bring in experts from different industries around the region to share the problems they have. The government is keen to act but needs to fully understand the problem and be made aware of all the aspects of anti-counterfeiting. After all, different industries have their own unique challenges. So one of the things I would say to international brands is ‘reach out’. Come in and visit the CCC. Engage with us. Let us understand the issues you face and we can work on solutions together.”

All too often trademark owners entering new and developing markets voice frustration that they are encountering challenging IP regimes. For Jong, then, Cambodia’s approach presents them with a unique opportunity to help mould the IP environment from outset: “Being a partner from an early stage, with a government keen to act, means that you are able to really shape the IP ecosystem and help get priorities straight early one. We want brands to come in and engage – for their benefit but also for the people of Cambodia and the country’s continued growth.”

Once engaged, he explains that the CC can work with companies to build “cross-platform multimedia campaigns, with the messages shaped according to the individual industry”, as well as facilitating the training of enforcement authorities.

For Jong, the creation of the CCC is “a massive achievement, guided by the deputy prime minister”, but he acknowledges that the real work lies ahead in terms of “building best practices, refining efforts, improving enforcement opportunities and bringing the levels of intelligence gathering and case management to a world class standard – while also raising awareness and reaching out to let people know what is happening in Cambodia”.

As to what ultimate success will look like, he states: “It’s a difficult question but you need to ask how most developed countries would see success. I think there are three factors. First, that citizens are protected from the dangers of counterfeiting. Second, that counterfeits are not easily attainable. And thirdly, that there are heavy penalties for those engaged in counterfeiting activities. If I see those three elements in place, then I would say we have progress.”

While Cambodia is “on a superhighway of growth”, there is clearly work to be done in terms of building a robust IP environment. However, it appears committed to the goal and is inviting associations and rights holders to help shape its systems and processes. For the government it is a logical move it is wishes to attract investment, with Jong stating: “The big message we want to convey is: ‘Come into Cambodia, and be confident that your brand will be protected. You can then use your time and resources to focus on growing that brand’.”

For brand owners it represents a rare opportunity to help build an IP-friendly environment from the ground up.

The CCC is working on a portal through which brands and industry associations can interact with it. Prior to this, Jong can be contacted directly via email at ainsley.saihpl@gmail.com