A US senator, demanding strong action against Beijing for copyright piracy, brought Chinese fake auto parts to a public hearing to underline the seriousness of the counterfeit threat to the US auto industry.
Displaying counterfeit connecting rods and spark plug wire sets sold in China, Democratic Senator Carl Levin on Wednesday told a meeting of the Congress-backed US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that product counterfeiting had emerged as one of the US auto parts industry's greatest concerns with China.
"I brought some examples of counterfeit parts to show you how sophisticated counterfeiters have become in making fake products that look and feel identical to the originals," the senator from Michigan, the world's automotive capital, told the hearing.
With the trade in counterfeit auto parts from China booming, he said, the concern went beyond the monetary losses like those suffered by a company when a handbag is copied or a high-end watch counterfeited.
"When the connecting rod on your car is fake or your brakes are made of compressed grass and wood, your life and the lives of your loved ones are at risk," Levin said.
The auto parts industry estimates millions of counterfeit auto parts enter the US every year and only a fraction of them are ever detected at the border by US enforcement officials, he said.
According to estimates by US auto suppliers, China was responsible for about 75 percent of counterfeit US auto parts sold outside the US, totaling US$9 billion.
"The theft of intellectual property in China has become so widespread and bold that recently an entire car was copied, manu-factured and sold under a different name," Levin said.
"The counterfeiter even had plans to export the knock-off to the United States," he told the meeting, which examined questions of intellectual property losses to China from a variety of US industries, including key manufacturing sectors, such as electronics and pharmaceuticals.
The US Trade Representative (USTR) has warned it was considering bringing a case in the WTO against China for failing to enforce intellectual property laws, but Levin noted "nothing has materialized to date."
"USTR is a paper tiger, I'm afraid," he said. "There China sits while our government dawdles. We need to stop merely putting China on lists and start taking more effective action."
US officials told the meeting that Washington was considering hauling China to the WTO for inadequate enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Assistant USTR Timothy Stratford said his office was intensifying work within the US government and with affected industries to compile data and lay other necessary groundwork "for a possible case."
"We have two criteria for assessing whether to bring a case. It must be winnable, and it must be the most effective means for addressing the underlying concern," he said.
The US is the only country that has brought a case against China in the WTO.
"And the United States government is again left with no choice but to consider filing another complaint against China, this time for inadequate enforcement of IPR," said Chris Israel, the US coordinator for international intellectual property enforcement at the Department of Commerce.