More than 40 million products suspected of violating intellectual property rights were detained at the EU's external borders in 2015. The goods are estimated to be worth nearly £650 million, the European Commission said.
However, intellectual property law expert Iain Connor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said these figures underestimate the true level of the crime: "Counterfeiting remains a massive problem and no one knows the true scale of it. Given the size of the EU economy and the many channels to the EU single market, I suggest the value is at least 10, if not 100, times bigger than the reported figure."
Cigarettes remain the most popular product to be counterfeited, followed by "everyday products which could be dangerous to the health and safety of consumers" such as food and beverages, toiletries, medicines, toys and household electrical goods. These account jointly for 25.8% of the total, the Commission said.
China was the main originating country for counterfeit goods (41%), followed by Montenegro, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Benin.
In more than 91% of detentions, goods were either destroyed or a court case was initiated to determine an infringement in cooperation with the rights-holder of the brand, the Commission said.
Pierre Moscovici, commissioner for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs, said: "I’ve witnessed first-hand the excellent work of customs officials across the EU in dealing with counterfeit and sometimes dangerous goods. But the criminal activity which swamps our internal market with fake and illegal products shows no sign of abating. The Commission will continue to work with customs authorities, international partners and industry to ensure a high level of protection for intellectual property rights in the EU."