Suva, Fiji, November 18, 2021– Tonga’s Ministry of Revenue and Customs CEO, Kelemete Vahe has called for more regional commitment towards the protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to protect millions of Pacific Islanders from receiving counterfeit items, which could pose economic, social and health hazards. Mr. Vahe made the comments at the IPR Legislative Framework Dialogue organised by the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), happening this week to discuss the progress of Pacific Island countries’ implementation of IPR laws. OCO and USPTO had earlier signed an agreement to develop IPR legislation for 14 selected OCO members- Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. The two organisations are working to ensure an IPR legislative framework is in place within the Customs administrations of the 14 selected members, compatible with U.S. IPR legislation, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and local practices. An important role of Customs administrations is to prevent counterfeit or pirated goods from entering communities or crossing the borders. The challenge however has been striking the balance between regulating and facilitating trade and ensuring that the flow of genuine merchandise is not impeded. USPTO’s Peter N. Fowler, Senior Counsel for Enforcement and one of the key facilitators at the dialogue, said counterfeiting was a global challenge that was getting harder to tackle. Mr. Fowler said because criminals continuously changed their modus operandi such as transit and shipping routes, it was critical for the region to work together in having similar IPR laws. During this COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Fowler said there was an increase in counterfeit masks, hand sanitisers and even vaccines and COVID-related medicines. This week, Papua New Guinea urged IPR holders to register with them for the enforcement of their rights at the border. OCO Head of Secretariat, Richard Brennan said having a proper and strong IPR legislation in place will enhance and strengthen economic growth as well as coordination between border and law enforcement agencies and enhance coordinated border management. This week’s dialogue brings together intellectual property contact points, IPR legal experts and representatives from solicitor general’s offices, IPR technical experts, intelligence officers, Customs officers, and relevant stakeholders to discuss the status of their respective IP laws. “The dialogue is an awareness meeting before the actual IPR support work and training commence giving members the opportunity to share their country’s experiences with respect to the status of their IPR laws,” OCO Manager of Operations, Mrs. Irma Daphney Stone said. “This is also an opportunity for all parties to understand the purpose and aim of the project, its relevance to encouraging investment in innovation, fostering entrepreneurial spirit and protecting the public and consumers from risks and threats to public health and safety.” Mrs. Stone said protecting society from counterfeit goods that can lead to severe health and safety issues is, and will remain, a high priority for Customs administrations. USPTO’s support to OCO includes the provision of IPR experts to provide training as well as sharing their experiences and knowledge at the dialogue. Today, the United States Homeland Security Investigation and Pfizer will present on the enforcement aspects of IPR and the potential emerging threats to pharmaceutical regime. ENDS For more information, queries, or interview requests, please email MediaOCO@ocosec.org About OCO: OCO is a grouping of 23 customs administrations in the Pacific region. It facilitates regional cooperation, information sharing and capacity building of its members with the overall target of supporting economic growth and improved border security in the Pacific.