The US set up on Friday a new office to combat copyright piracy worldwide and appointed a senior lawyer to marshal China's compliance with trade commitments.
The moves underline Washington's concerns over the rising costs of intellectual property (IP) theft and are part of a multipronged government effort to protect rights through enforcement, international cooperation, legislation and prevention programs, officials said.
"These two initiatives are another step forward to ensure that the United State is active and aggressive in enforcement of our rights under trade agreements," US Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters.
Intellectual property issues were previously covered by a unit in her office which also handled services and investment topics.
"Truth be told, we have been very active and engaged in intellectual property rights enforcement issues for many years but the IP office has been buried in a larger office that did services and investment," Schwab said after briefing Congress leaders on the issue.
"We are making this a stand-alone operation," she said, adding that "priority countries, including China and Russia" would garner special attention.
The trade representative's annual report on global intellectual property crime in April listed 48 countries on the government's watch list.
In addition to China and Russia, the report set out significant concerns with respect to Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Paraguay, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela.
Roy Blunt, majority whip of the House of Representatives and the legislative pointman for trade agreements, said the administration's moves to step up copyright enforcement underlined a "vigorous effort" to ensure that US trade agreements were fulfilled, especially by China.
"China is specifically a large and important trading partner of the United States and it is critically important for those exact reasons that China also be a responsible partner," he said.
The US suffered US$250 billion in annual losses, and 750,000 lost jobs due to intellectual property theft, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Thursday.
"These staggering figures do not cover the costs of intellectual property theft to our economy and everyone involved in it, from consumers to workers to stockholders," he said.
While the US received some cooperation from Beijing in cracking down on intellectual property theft, "the fact remains that many commercial piracy cases now under investigation by federal law enforcement have a nexus to China," Gonzales said.
The US has previously warned that it was considering bringing a case in the WTO against China for failing to enforce intellectual property laws.
The US Attorney General's office is working with the trade representative to "improve the language" in free trade agreements and other international treaties regarding intellectual property protections, Gonzales said.
Schwab also announced on Friday the appointment of a chief counsel for China trade enforcement following a "top-to-bottom" review of bilateral trade relations.
Claire Reade, a leading international trade litigator for more than two decades, will coordinate the trade representative's efforts to ensure China's compliance with its trade commitments, particularly WTO and bilateral obligations, Schwab said.
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