Published On: Thu, Jul 25th, 2019

MP Brison’s fight against counterfeit alcohol

MP Rolando Brison in Parliament

PHILIPSBURG – The unexpected – and possibly counterfeit-alcohol related – death of several American tourists in the Dominican Republic in May has inspired MP Rolando Brison to spring into action. The events in the Dominican Republic, Brison said, are “a clear and present danger” to countries that do not have grip on the safety of imported alcohol.

The tourists who died in the May all drank alcoholic beverages from the minibar in their hotel. So far, the link between these deaths and the alcohol has not been firmly established. However, according to an article in Rolling Stone, “all victims had fluid in their lungs, a condition known as pulmonary edema.”

The same article quotes Lawrence Kobilinksy, a forensic science professor at John Jay college of Criminal Justice in New York. He said that the effects of methanol poisoning are consistent with details from the tourists’ autopsies – like fluid in the lungs and heart and respiratory failure.

Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, is one of the toxic chemicals producers of counterfeit alcoholic beverages use in their distillation processes.

Brison’s reaction to the reports from the Dominican Republic focuses on protecting the well-being of the population as well as that of tourists visiting St. Maarten. To achieve this, he wants to permanently eradicate counterfeit and decoded products from the market in St. Maarten – and that is where the MP is certain to meet some resistance.

The risk of consuming counterfeit alcohol is clear: the distillation process is mostly not up to standards and the ingredients the counterfeiters use are usually not top of the line, to put it mildly.

But decoded products are a different animal altogether and they are not, at least not necessarily, counterfeit. Many of these products enter the market through parallel imports – and they are the real thing.

These imports are a pain in the neck for licensed distributors of brand names, but they are not illegal. They are more often than not bought in bulk at a discount from licensed distributors in other markets. To hide the origin of these products, they are decoded and therefore cannot be traced back to the seller. The benefit for the seller is that these sales enable him to meet sales targets and possibly qualify for bonuses from the producer. The parallel importer is able to sell the product under the market price – but still at a profit.

In the past, the government of the former Netherlands Antilles has taken the point of view that parallel import is actually good for the economy, because it stimulates competition. Without it, the licensed distributors would have total control of price levels.

And that the price of, say, a 700 ml bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label varies wildly around the world is a fact. In 2017, this product sold for $7.29 in Nigeria, for $13.62 in the Dominican Republic, for about $14.00 in St. Maarten, for $33.83 in Trinidad and Tobago and for a hefty $47.97 in Iceland.

The challenge for MP Brison’s initiative is therefore to walk a fine line between counterfeit alcohol and decoded alcohol.

There is no evidence that counterfeit alcohol in the Caribbean has been laced with stuff like jet fuel or embalming fluid from mortuaries. According to an article published on theconversation.com this practice stems from Kenya, where Chang-aa (Kill me quick) is a popular illegal brew. It is the drink of choice for vulnerable and poor residents of urban slums in Kenya.

Asked about the parallel import conundrum, Brison replied: “I am having stakeholder meetings on all sides before finalizing my legislative direction. I do a lot a research and that is where I am at right now. What I do know is that we have problem on the horizon and I am choosing to be proactive.”