By  on September 11, 2008

WASHINGTON — The fight against global counterfeiting and piracy was front and center Wednesday with the introduction of legislation in Congress that would provide more money to enforce intellectual property laws and create new penalties.

The bipartisan bill would require the office of the U.S. Trade Representative to take specific steps to stop violations, increase the budget for the USTR to assist developing countries in improving intellectual property protection and establish enforcement tools to crack down on countries that refuse to combat theft of U.S. intellectual property.

“We can’t stamp ‘Made in America’ on an idea, but Congress can do more to protect American intellectual property around the world,” said Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), who sponsored the measure with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah). “We can’t let other countries repeatedly rip off the moves Americans make, the products Americans design and the other fruits of American ingenuity without taking some action.”

China is the number-one culprit for fashion counterfeits that expose U.S. brands to millions of dollars in lost revenue. The most recent statistics show that U.S. Customs seized $77.8 million in bogus footwear from China in the 2007 fiscal year; $27 million in apparel; $14.2 million in handbags, wallets and backpacks; $13.4 million in watches and $4 million worth of sunglasses.

The manufacture of counterfeit products in China has shown few signs of abating, despite recent steps by the U.S. to pressure the economic giant, such as a recent government report that put China on the government’s “priority watch list.”

The bill would require the USTR to develop an “action plan” for each foreign country that has remained on the list for at least one year. If a country does not comply within a year, the legislation authorizes the President to take enforcement actions, including prohibiting federal government procurement from the offending country, barring new financing by the federally controlled Overseas Private Investment Corp. and Export-Import Bank and withdrawing any preferential trade treatment.

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