Efforts by the Russian government to be accepted into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and receive a preferential trade status with the United States may stall because of Russia’s “abysmal” record of enforcing intellectual property laws, a group of U.S. business trade groups said Tuesday.
The U.S. government, as it currently engages Russia in bilateral talks related to WTO membership, needs to push the Russian government into enforcing its laws protecting software, music, movies and other forms of intellectual property, said officials with the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and other business trade groups.
Russia is also seeking permanent normalized trade relations (PNTR) status with the United States, but the U.S. Congress could block the change in Russia’s trade status without changes in intellectual property protections there, the groups said at a Washington, D.C., press conference.
“I would say its record is abysmal in regard to intellectual property protections,” said Calman Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, a business group that advocates for expanded international trade. “Counterfeiting [in Russia] is rampant right now and really needs to be stopped.”
The groups’ call for more U.S. action came after the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative last week decided to keep Russia on its “priority watch list” for intellectual property protection problems, but declined to include Russia on a list of countries that raise the most piracy concerns.
However, the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus, a group of lawmakers, in April named Russia as one of six countries it will monitor for piracy problems.
Russian officials say they are working hard at fighting piracy. “Our government takes the problem of piracy very seriously,” Yevgenniy Khorishko, a Russian embassy spokesman, said in April. “We know of the problem, and we’re doing what we can.”
But business groups said Tuesday the Russia government has been lax in its efforts to combat piracy. The Russian government is looking at rolling back civil code reforms, including stronger copyright laws, of the last 15 years, and its “raids” of optical disk manufacturing plants often come after plant officials have been forewarned, said Eric Schwartz, vice president and special counsel for IIPA.
IIPA believes 52 optical disk plants are operating in Russia, with far more production than the legal Russian demand for CDs and DVDs, Schwartz said. Although Russian officials said they raided 21 plants last year, none of the plants were shut down, and no plant owners were prosecuted, he said.
“We’re not seeing improvements in the piracy rates going down,” he added.
Speakers at the press conference said they want increased trade between the United States and Russia, but they also want better intellectual property protections.
During the current bilateral talks, the U.S. government has the leverage to push for changes, Cohen said. If the U.S. and Russian governments don’t fix the problem now, Congress could reject PNTR status for Russia when it considers the trade agreement perhaps as early as next year, he added.
Under PNTR, Russia would have an unconditional trading status with the United States with mutually favorable tariff rates. Membership in WTO allows nations to generally trade freely with each other, with trade disputes handled by the WTO.
-Grant Gross, IDG News Service
For related news coverage, read Why Piracy Isn’t Going Away in China.
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