By  on October 24, 2007

WASHINGTON — Seeking to clamp down on counterfeiters by strengthening international cooperation and toughening laws, the U.S., European Union and six other trading partners presented plans Tuesday to negotiate an anticounterfeiting trade agreement.

"This is a global problem that robs individuals and businesses of billions of dollars," said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, flanked by lawmakers at a Capitol Hill press conference. "The crooks are fast, so we need to be faster in this knowledge-driven global economy."

Canada, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and Switzerland will also take part in the negotiations that Schwab said will help "forge a new path, a better path, with strong rules and enforcement principles."

Counterfeiting and piracy saps $200 billion to $250 billion from the U.S. economy annually, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The agreement could lead to stronger laws and stricter enforcement standards, while creating a set of best practices and a framework that other countries could join.

Although China is not part of the talks, Schwab said the deal could still help stem the flow of fakes from the country that many counterfeiters use as their manufacturing base.

"Where you have enhanced enforcement and cross-border and international cooperation on intellectual property, that has an impact on whoever is producing the pirated and counterfeit goods," she said. "It has the potential, and keep in mind we're still negotiating it, to be both a carrot and a stick. It's both an opportunity to set an example and also an opportunity to beef up enforcement."

The U.S. has already taken steps in dealing with fakes from China. In August, the Bush administration brought a World Trade Organization case against the country, challenging its legal protections and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

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