Vincent Fernandes, 33, makes a living smuggling cheap, unbranded bi-cycles, toys, mobile phones and laptops from China and selling them as branded ones to dealers in Versova and Colaba, who then re-sell them to retail outlets.
By cutting corners on the original product’s quality and evading import duties, he can sell the goods dirt-cheap. Boasting offices in China’s Guangdong province, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Goa, he makes money hand over fist.
His goods are not the only things that are counterfeit. So is his name. For obvious reasons, he did not want the real one to be used.
“The demand for a Rado watch or Nokia mobile phone among Indian customers is tremendous,” he said. “But people always have one eye on the price.”
In the first six months of 2007, China sold goods worth $10.24 billion to Indians. But trade sources say the figure is actually twice that.
Amoral businessmen like Fernandes are able to rake in money because there is a huge pool of price-conscious but poorly informed customers who want to flaunt brand names, say domestic producers. Regulation and customs surveillance are also not stringent enough, they say.
“Chinese exporters alone are not to blame,” said Ashok Jain, secretary of the All India Toy Manufacturers’ Association. “Our importers are also asking them to supply cheap goods.”
Importers are just responding to consumer demand for attractive, but cheap products, which may be unsafe.
“In India people buy anything that comes cheap,” said Mohan Gurnani, president of the Federation of Associations of Maharashtra. “Quality is not an issue here.”
But China supplies an estimated one-third of the world’s household products, and it would be inaccurate to label all of them sub-standard. Most high-end products go to Europe, not India, say traders.
“There are branded Chinese items — Haier is a fine example,” said Rajesh Bhagat, managing director of IMTEX, which organises trade fairs of Chinese products. “But we should identify those products and pay for them.”
With organised retailing expanding, the flood of inferior products might abate, he said.
(With inputs from Lalatendu Mishra)