US presses China on disc piracy, trade issues

Rampant piracy of computer software and optical discs was one of several areas brought up in discussions this week between U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans and senior Chinese government officials during Evans’ just concluded four-day visit to the country.

The commerce secretary was in China to try to express trade concerns of U.S. companies and try to get greater access for them to the Chinese domestic market.

The view from the U.S. is that China is becoming increasingly important. The country is currently the fourth-largest trading partner of the U.S. and bilateral trade reached US$147 billion in 2002, according to U.S. government figures. However within that trade, exports from China to the U.S. outvalued those in the opposite direction by roughly five to one, the U.S. government said.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says bilateral trade is close to US$97 billion and that the deficit is smaller than the U.S. makes out. It blames differences in the way statistics are collected for the different figures.

“We have been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Evans said at the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing on Tuesday morning, according to a copy of his prepared remarks released by the Department of Commerce. “The American market will not remain open to Chinese exports indefinitely, if the Chinese market is not equally opened to U.S. companies and American workers.

Intellectual property rights is one of the areas of greatest concern to U.S. companies.

“One of the specific issues we focused on while we were here was the protection of intellectual property rights,” Evans said at a Beijing news conference on Wednesday, according to a transcript. “There is too much piracy of intellectual property, too much counterfeiting, too much stealing.”

He cited figures from the Business Software Alliance that estimated 92 per cent of software in use in China in 2002 was pirated.

“That’s not fair to American workers,” he said.

Earlier in his trip he called for criminal penalties for intellectual property theft and larger fines that would “be a deterrent rather than a business expense.”

During the news conference, Evans was also asked about restrictions put on high-tech exports to China. He said those restrictions could be eased with a change in restrictions on site visits from the Chinese.

“China is the only country in the world where we have difficulty in having access to the companies that are buying this high-technology equipment, what we would call end-use visits,” he said, according to the transcript.

“As soon as we can get an end-use visit agreement in place so that we can tell the Congress of the United States and the American people that we are being provided access to visit the plants and the facilities and the businesses that are buying this high-tech equipment, I feel confident that it will improve the environment, improve the conditions for increasing high-technology trade between our two countries.”

Evans’ trip to China comes shortly after the 21-nation APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) held its annual leader’s summit. At the meeting participants, which included China and the U.S., agreed to attempt to reduce piracy of optical discs by strengthening regulation of disc production facilities.