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Rong Kluea market vendors face ruin

Some market traders say they pay Thai authorities for advance warnings about raids. KT/Ven Rathavong

More than a year after the enforcement of tough intellectual property laws in Thailand, the majority of Cambodian vendors at Thailand’s Rong Kluea market are on the verge of giving up selling counterfeit products.

Hundreds of stalls at the popular border market in Aranyaprathet, at which most of the vendors are Cambodian, are at risk of closure amid decreasing customer numbers and dwindling incomes.

Last March, the Thai military cracked down on counterfeit products in multiple Cambodian-owned stores and warehouses at Rong Kluea market, while fake goods worth nearly 10 million baht ($300,000) were confiscated from Cambodian vendors.

A Cambodian clothes vendor named Sak said that after the Thai military crackdown on multiple Cambodian-owned stores and warehouses at Rong Kluea market in early 2016, most vendors stopped selling imitation or counterfeit goods.

They turned to selling unbranded and original products instead, but business has been bad.

“We have no choice because we fear being arrested or having our products seized by the Thai military following the enactment of their intellectual property laws,” he said.

Mr Sak said that both Cambodian and Thai vendors still sell some counterfeit goods in the market, though many have closed their stores because they could not afford pay rent and other operating costs.

He said he earns only 3,000 baht ($90) per day now because customer numbers are down, adding that Thais prefer to buy counterfeit “brand-name products” imported from China and Vietnam and sold in Bangkok and other provinces across the country.

“Before the crackdown on the fake products, our products sold well and we could earn up to 50,000 baht ($1,500) a day here,” Mr Sak said.

Some vendors at Rong Kluea said they are bribing local officials to be able to continue selling counterfeit products. They get tip-offs from authorities on when crackdowns from senior officials are announced.

“We pay up to 3,000 baht in monthly bribes to Thai authorities from Aranyaprathet district in exchange for providing some sort of security for us and alerting us of impending crackdowns,” Mr Sak said, adding they would have been arrested and faced large fines as well as having their products seized if they did not.

Shoes vendor Lon Yuleang, 25, switched to selling unbranded goods after the strict implementation of the copyright law.

“For almost a year, we have struggled to run our business. There are very few customers here now,” she said, adding that Thai vendors have also suffered.

Counterfeit brand-name bags, belts, shoes and clothes were previously the top-selling items.

According to Ms Yuleang, the most popular counterfeit Nike, Adidas and Puma shoes usually come from China and Vietnam.

“We used to earn at least 10,000 baht per day. But now everything is different. We earn only between 1,000 and 2,000 baht per day,” she said.

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