The Bush administration, under pressure to deal with a soaring trade deficit with China, asked the Chinese last week to outline what they are doing to reduce piracy of American movies, computer programs and other copyrighted material.
The formal request for details on China’s enforcement efforts was made through the Geneva-based World Trade Organization and could be a precursor to economic sanctions. Japan and Switzerland filed similar information requests, the Associated Press reported.
The United States is concerned by the violations of intellectual property rights in China, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said in announcing the action. He said piracy and counterfeiting remain rampant in China despite years of enforcement on this issue.
Chu Maoming, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said his government was doing a lot to crack down on copyright piracy, including establishing a high-level task force headed by Vice Premier Wu Yi.
The U.S. request sought information on how many enforcement cases have been brought by the Chinese, including a breakdown of how many resulted in criminal penalties and civil fines.
The U.S. is seeking a response by Jan. 23. U.S. officials said they were hopeful China would comply but that Chinese officials had given no indication during preliminary talks about what they intended to do.
American businesses contend they are losing billions of dollars a year because China is failing to enforce the laws it has on the books to prevent the piracy of American-made movies, music, computer software and other products. The U.S. industry has estimated that in some categories virtually 90 percent of the items being sold in China are pirated.
U.S. business groups have been lobbying the administration to bring a formal WTO complaint, a step that could lead to economic sanctions if the United States wins its case. China announced this summer after meetings with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in Beijing that it would file more criminal charges in copyright cases, crack down on Chinese exports of pirated products and focus special attention on movie piracy.