Executives representing some of the US' biggest companies urged the US government on Thursday to aggressively clamp down on a tidal wave of fake products they say is surging out of China and Russia.
Leaders of several powerful industry associations, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the Motion Picture Association of America, said the government should urgently adopt tougher legal penalties against counterfeiters and boost efforts to combat foreign piracy of US brands.
"It is an epidemic," John Engler, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers, told a news conference at a congressional office building.
The groups also called on US President George W. Bush to appoint an intellectual property enforcement czar to the White House staff to help police the global fight against fake manufactured goods.
The executives, representing a range of industries, brought their concerns to Congress to seek urgent legislative action on their complaints. They are backed by the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy, a network of over 300 US companies and trade associations.
Chris Singer, the chief operating officer of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, held aloft two similar-looking medicine packages for reporters to view.
"Even our experts have a really hard time telling the difference. Although the threat is rare, it is growing," Singer said, identifying one of the packages as fake drugs packaged by skilled counterfeiters.
Executives said many of the counterfeit goods seized by customs officers come from China and Russia.
The stepped-up industry campaign comes after the US government sharpened trade tensions with China in April by filing a wide-ranging complaint over "rampant" copyright piracy with the WTO.
Some US lawmakers have also criticized the Chinese government for what they say is the Asian powerhouse's failure to tackle industrial-scale counterfeiting networks.
Despite Chinese government pledges of a clampdown, fake DVDs, software, luxury goods, books, auto parts, footwear and even pharmaceuticals can be widely bought across China, according to US officials.
The trade in counterfeit goods, however, extends worldwide and fake designer handbags can be bought from street vendors just blocks from the US Congress.
Industry executives said the illicit trade depletes the potential profits of US companies including General Motors Corp, Gillette Co and Microsoft Corp, and that in some cases, such as fake drugs, it can even threaten peoples' lives.
"What we believe is that a lot of this is coming from China, we also believe that quite a bit is coming from Russia," Singer said, referring to the trade in counterfeit drugs.
He spoke after the testimony of a relative of a counterfeit drug victim. Keavin Blount, of Missouri, related how his now-deceased mother, Maxine, had unwittingly purchased a counterfeit drug which she believed was Procrit from a pharmacy to treat cancer.
Singer said the pharmaceutical industry was examining high-tech ways to imprint medicine shipments to guard against fakers pedaling knock-off drugs.
And it is just not US firms that are reeling from the effects of this piracy.
Counterfeiters have ripped off toys made by the Danish firm Lego, mobile phones made by Finnish group Nokia and luxury goods such as Swiss Rolex watches and Italian and French designer handbags.
The Chamber of Commerce claims that illegal counterfeiting costs the US economy between US$200 billion and US$250 billion a year and has caused the loss of 750,000 jobs.
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