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Clampdown on bootleg Blue Mountain coffee

Published:Wednesday | November 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Delano Franklyn, chairman of the Coffee Industry Board, announced a new task force to clamp down on illegal trading of Blue Mountain coffee, at a press conference on Tuesday, November 25. - Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer

Hoteliers, retailers, importers targeted by new task force

Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

Chairman of the Coffee Industry Board (CIB), Delano Franklyn, yesterday announced the formation of a new Brand Infringement and Enforcement Task Force to combat the rising problem of fraudulent Blue Mountain coffee brands on the local market, as well as unlicensed imports of coffee.

The task force, to be led by the coffee board itself, will include representatives from Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO).

The JCF, under the new initiative, will remove "contraband coffee" from local shelves.

The coffee board owns the trademark for Jamaica Blue Moun-tain Coffee (JBM) under a company called Coffee Marks Limited. Traders in the premium brand must be licensed by the commodity board. The coffee board has no estimate of the losses to the sector from fraudulent activity, but says it has detected a rise in illicit activity in both domestic and international markets.

The board will soon be going after perpetrators abroad, but details of that initiative were not released.

JMB is principally sold in Japan, the United States and Europe. Franklyn said the announcement of the task force was an important signal for chief market Japan, where buyers have been asking for clarity on where the market is headed.

CIB is ramping up the pressure as earnings from the sector flatline.

Coffee exports are now valued at around US$11.3 million, a new low and a massive drop from the US$16.3-million value placed on overseas trading of the bean by the Planning Institute of Jamaica in 2013. The previous low, post-global recession, was US$13.8 million in 2012.

The Jamaica coffee market's overall value, including domestic activity, is about US$18 million, the board told Wednesday Business.

Speaking at a press conference called in Kingston Tuesday, the coffee board chairman said the task force targets individuals who import and distribute coffee without a licence, individuals who seek to "pass off" non-Blue Mountain coffee as the premium-grade product, persons trading in true Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee without a licence, and others operating in breach of their licence.

The task force has sights on hotels on the north and south coasts, from which complaints have come about poor taste alleged to be associated with the premium brand.

"The Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is well known and exceedingly popular nationally and internationally ... . It has been brought to our attention that there are persons who are trading in Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee without a licence - the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee trademark logo is being misused by a number of persons," said Franklyn.

"The Coffee Industry Board, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Coffee Marks Limited, owns the trademark of the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee," he said.

Franklyn said Tuesday's press conference was the beginning of stakeholder engagement, but that the body would proceed to sanctions, including non-renewal of licences, fines and criminal prosecution, depending on whether the breach was of the Customs Act, Standards Legislation, trademark infringement, or other laws.

The penalties for breaches of the Standards Act range up to $3 million in fines and a maximum 12 months of imprisonment at the discretion of a resident magistrate.

Fines for breaches of the Customs Act range between $100,000 and $500,000

The BSJ will monitor the quality of local coffee products and ensure that JBM blends are of the right mix, as well as labelling requirements. And the task force will also be increasing surveillance at ports of entry for fraudulent and unlicensed imports.

"The CIB will be acting within the ambit of legislations (sic) and regulations, in tandem with the Brand Infringement and Enforcement Task Force to minimise, if not eradicate, the current incidences of brand infringements, and will impose the necessary sanctions," Franklyn said.

Noting that the illicit coffee trade problem was worsening within the context of unfulfilled demand amid declining production of JBM - which has fallen from 500,000 boxes a decade ago to 180,000 boxes this last crop year - Franklyn said some producers had come forward with a plan to improve supplies.

Based on land slated for planting, land currently planted with seedlings, and capital set aside for farm development, the CIB chairman said the group expects production to return to 500,000 boxes in five years' time, outside of "disease and acts of God, including storms and hurricanes".