Together, We Can Protect Arizona Businesses from Illegal Trade

by Hernan Albamonte and Juan Ciscomani

In 2020, Arizona welcomed more than 32 million visitors to the state, and we were delighted to welcome them. Collectively, they spent $15 billion, representing a tremendous economic investment in Arizona. From the Grand Canyon to the Chiricahua Wilderness, Arizona boasts some of America’s most beautiful national treasures. There are endless opportunities to explore Arizona’s grandeur, and this excitement to visit the state generates more than 150,000 jobs.

However, the natural beauty of Arizona presents some unique challenges to the state. The pristine grandeur is difficult for law enforcement to patrol. In particular, the 370-mile border Arizona shares with Mexico is especially difficult to maintain and is a prime target for criminals to exploit. While our proximity to Mexico has the potential to benefit Arizona with regard to trade and economic prosperity, it also leaves our state vulnerable to dangerous criminal enterprises, especially those involved in illegal trade.

Around the world, transnational crime facilitated by illegal trade drains $2.2 trillion out of the global economy. From smuggling tobacco — an illegal practice that costs Arizona taxpayers $175 million each year — to counterfeiting luxury items and trafficking in deadly drugs, the havoc wreaked by illegal trade on our communities and economy is tremendous. The peddling of these illicit goods produces revenue used to fund even more sinister activities, such as human trafficking and terrorism. 

This problem has plagued Arizona for far too long. From 2014 to 2019, the state ranked first in the nation for the nearly 18,000 incidents of prescription substances lost in transit. In 2017, federal law enforcement seized more than $13 million in smuggled currency, the third most among U.S. states. Sadly, Arizona has had more than 1,200 cases of human trafficking since 2007, a stat that places it at 14th-highest in the nation. And these are only the ones that have been reported. 

Arizona has strong ties to Mexico. Our economic, geographic and cultural links help to foster strong relationships and contribute to our mutual prosperity. These alarming numbers highlight the urgent need for action in securing our border, which would protect both countries from bad actors. Combating illegal trade will crack down on the shadowy web of criminal and terror networks it funds and supports. It will also help to protect legitimate businesses, which are working hard to play by the rules, complying with health and safety regulations, and contributing their fair share to the tax base. Unfortunately, these problems are complex and there is no one solution. 

Now, more than ever, we need public and private partnerships that are connecting local officials, law enforcement and the private sector with the critical information and training needed to combat illegal trade. Business and community leaders must work together to educate and take action against the shocking prevalence of black-market profiteering, as well as the consequences it wreaks on their economy and the safety of their citizens. Adequate enforcement will not only protect consumers from unsafe and counterfeit goods, it will promote Arizona businesses and strengthen our economy.

United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT) is doing just that, and we are proudly working to make Arizona a safer place to live and do business. From sharing information with the public to raising awareness on illegal trade to working directly with local officials, municipalities and law enforcement, USA-IT is bridging the gap between all sectors to fight back against illegal trade and related crimes.

As Arizona takes on the many challenges that lie ahead — including illegal trade — we need all stakeholders involved to ensure a safe and prosperous future for our state. Patronizing locally owned businesses and partnering with organizations like USA-IT are a few steps in the right direction and investments in the economic well-being and livelihood of all Arizonans.

Illegal trade and related crimes, and the criminals they support, have no place in Arizona. Only together, with the help of initiatives like USA-IT, can we build a safer and more prosperous future for all who call the Grand Canyon State home. 

Juan Ciscomani (left) leads the Arizona-Mexico Commission and Hernan Albamonte (right) heads up International Affairs for Philip Morris International and is the leading advisor to the United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade coalition. 

Did you Know: USA-IT is a public education initiative to combat black market trade, supported by a coalition of national and state brand enforcement experts, law enforcement agencies and leading business organizations.

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