TOKYO Nearly 40 nations reached agreement in principle on Saturday on an international trade pact aimed at reducing copyright and trademark theft that causes losses of billions of dollars annually.
"Participants in the negotiations constructively resolved nearly all substantive issues ... (and) agreed to work expeditiously to resolve the small number of outstanding issues," the United States, Japan, the European Union and other participating countries said in a joint statement.
In Washington, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the negotiations that took place in Tokyo were "almost across the finish line."
"In principle, we have found solutions, even on the most difficult issues. Nearly all of the parties embraced those solutions," Kirk said in a statement.
A key feature of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) will mandate that customs officials have authority to seize counterfeit goods without a request from the rights holders or a court order, according to statements from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
The talks involved the United States, the European Union and its 27 member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland, and two developing countries -- Morocco and Mexico.
The participating countries say their economies have suffered from a sharp increase in trade in fake and pirated goods.
That has been aided by the Internet, which makes its easier for buyers and sellers of counterfeit goods to come together and also to distribute pirated music, movies and software.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has estimated that global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods rose from about $100 billion annually in 2000 to about $250 billion in 2007.
U.S. movie, music, software and other copyright-based industries calculate they lose more than $16 billion in sales each year from pirated versions of their products sold around the world.
China, the largest source of counterfeit goods found in international trade, has not been a party to the ACTA talks but founding members hope it will join in the future.
"We are on the threshold of a landmark achievement in the enforcement of intellectual property rights, and the international alliance we are forging with parties representing half of global trade will be critical to fighting the theft of American jobs through trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy," Kirk said.
The United States and the EU have been at odds on one element of the pact: Europe's demand that it also include protection for its traditional food names like Parmesan cheese as well as for its fashion and car designs.
The United States and some other countries appealed for a narrower agreement that would protect mainly copyright and trademarks, whose violation has ravaged profits in the U.S. entertainment industry.
The joint statement did not address that issue.
"We've come a long way but we must still close the remaining gaps without which there will be no agreement," said a senior European Union official close to the negotiations.
Future topics include trying to expand the number of ACTA participants to include China, as well as the rest of Asia and other regions such as the Middle East.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo, additional reporting by Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck in Brussels and Doug Palmer in Washington; editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Will Dunham)