WASHINGTON The United States and other developed countries intend to negotiate an agreement aimed at curbing the piracy and counterfeiting of consumer goods around the world, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
"This is a global problem that robs individuals and businesses of billions of dollars and puts public health and safety at risk," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said at an event with members of Congress to announce the initiative.
In Brussels, the European Commission said it would seek a mandate from its 27 member states to join the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
"A new international anti-counterfeiting treaty will strengthen global cooperation and establish new international norms, helping to create a new global gold standard on IPR (intellectual property rights) enforcement," European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in a statement.
The initial "leadership group" also includes Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Mexico and Switzerland. U.S. trade officials said they hoped to finish the talks as quickly as possible, but no precise deadline has been set.
"The crooks are fast, so we need to be faster in this knowledge-driven global economy," Schwab said.
China and Russia, which are routinely cited by the U.S. government for widespread piracy of American music, movies and other goods, were absent from the list of countries participating in the talks.
Although U.S. music and movie companies have long complained about billions of dollars in lost sales each year because of piracy, intellectual property right theft affects industries ranging from footwear to auto parts to pharmaceuticals.
"The proliferation of counterfeit medicines around the world puts at risk the health of patients who depend on safe and effective medicines to live longer, healthier lives," Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement.
The proposed agreement is intended to raise the bar for protection of copyrights, patents and trademarks through increased international cooperation, improved enforcement activities and a strong legal framework.
The United States hopes the example set by the initial leadership group will compel other countries to eventually join the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, Schwab said.
That offers a potentially quicker route to success than trying to negotiate a global agreement with all 151 members of the World Trade Organization, trade experts said.
"There is no question that piracy of intellectual property is out of control and undercutting U.S. competitiveness," said Frank Vargo, vice president for international economic policy, at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Japan deserves a "great deal of credit" for its early role in pushing the initiative, Vargo added.
(Additional reporting by William Schomberg in Brussels)