The US has taken Taiwan off its special “watch list” in recognition of the progress it has made in protecting intellectual property rights (IPR).
“Taiwan has come a long way on this issue over the last eight years,” said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the US Trade Representative's office in Washington.
“Taiwan was a haven for pirates. Today, it has strengthened its enforcement, strengthened its laws and demonstrated a commitment to becoming a haven for innovation and creativity,” Spicer said on Friday.
“This is a credit to the hard work done by Taiwan as well as to our close bilateral cooperation. We hope that this progress can continue to be duplicated in other areas of our trade relationship,” he said.
The unusual praise-filled statement came close on the heels of the decision by two other departments of the US government to take legal actions against Taiwanese businesspeople.
In one case three Taiwanese executives have agreed to plead guilty in the US for participating in a global price-fixing conspiracy related to liquid-crystal-display (LCD) panels, and in the other, a married Taiwanese couple appeared certain to be banned from conducting business with US companies because they were alleged to have shipped components to North Korea that could have been used in weapons of mass destruction.
But it was the good news from the US Trade Representative (USTR) that will dominate business talks this weekend.
The decision to remove Taiwan from the “Special 301 Watch List “resulted from an “out-of-cycle review” announced last April to examine how well laws to protect intellectual property rights were being enforced in Taiwan.
In a written statement, the USTR said: “The US will continue to carefully monitor Taiwan's progress in improving its IPR regime, including enactment of pending legislation to fight Internet piracy.”
The US also wants to see tighter laws to prevent the import and export of pirated goods, including pharmaceutical products, medical devices and such drugs.
In the first case against Taiwanese businesspeople, three executives from Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd have agreed to plead guilty and serve prison time in the US for illegally fixing prices in the sale of thin-film-transistor (TFT) LCD panels.
According to felony charges filed by the US Department of Justice, Frank Lin (林鎮弘) has agreed to serve nine months and pay a U$50,000 fine; Liu Chih-chun (劉治軍) will serve seven months and pay a US$30,000 fine; and Brian Lee (李學龍) will serve six months and pay a US$20,000 fine.
They will plead guilty to joining a conspiracy with South Korean and Japanese companies between 2001 and 2006 to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing prices.
Taiwan-based Chunghwa Picture Tubes will pay US$65 million in fines.
The three Taiwanese executives will also assist the US government in its ongoing TFT-LCD investigation.
TFT-LCD panels are used in computer monitors and notebooks, televisions, mobile phones and other electronic devices.
In the second case, the US Treasury Department has sanctioned a Taiwanese couple and the two firms they run for illicit sales to a North Korean firm accused of spreading weapons of mass destruction.
The Treasury Department said that Alex Tsai (蔡顯泰) and his wife Tsai Su Lu-chi (蔡蘇綠綺), and their firms, Global Interface Company Inc and Trans Merits Co Ltd, “shipped to North Korea items that could be used to support North Korea's advanced weapons program.”
Shipments were made to the North Korean state firm, Korea Mining Development Trading Corp, which is blacklisted in the US for selling banned equipment to Syria and Iran last year.
Stuart Levey, US Treasury undersecretary for terrorism, said the couple and their firms faced a ban on doing business with any US citizens and a freeze on any assets under US jurisdiction.
Alex Tsai was indicted last year by Taiwanese prosecutors for forging invoices and illegally shipping restricted materials to North Korea, Levey said.
A Treasury spokesman refused to identify what equipment the firms allegedly sold to North Korea, but other sources said they were items that could be used in the manufacture of missiles.
Despite these setbacks, experts said that Taiwan's removal from the watch list should help improve US-Taiwanese trade across the board even in the wake of the economic slowdown.
The Intellectual Property Office under the Ministry of Economic Affairs yesterday welcomed the news.
The director-general of the office, Wang Mei-hua (王美花), said the development was an indication that Taiwan's efforts to protect intellectual property rights had won the recognition of the US.
Wang said that the establishment of the intellectual property court on July 1 last year was the most important achievement in the nation's efforts to promote IPR protection, adding that the court had received 700 cases as of the end of the year.
Wang said Taiwan was one of the few countries in the world, along with Malaysia and Thailand, that has set up an intellectual property court. Most countries, she said, have only established intellectual property tribunals. Over the past year, Taiwan has also stepped up IPR enforcement on campuses to combat Internet and textbook piracy, she said.
The government is also taking aim at copyright infringements on the Internet and has submitted a draft amendment of the Copyright Law to the legislature last October that would provide incentives to Internet service providers to help curb such infringements.
She said her office would hold a public hearing on the legislation next week and hoped that it could clear the legislature during the next legislative session, which is due to begin next month.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA
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