EU business survey berates China's piracy stance

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BRUSSELS -- The European Union came under more pressure Thursday to take action against China's rampant piracy when an annual survey of EU business said that the country's weak copyright protection was still one of the main barriers to further investment by foreign companies.

The message came less than a week before EU and Chinese leaders are due to meet at a summit in Beijing which is expected to be overshadowed by concerns over rapidly escalating piracy.

China accounted for 93% of the 23.2 million counterfeit movies, music and software seized by EU customs authorities in 2006 -- a total that was up 139% from 2005. EU authorities are increasingly losing patience with the Chinese government's failure to dent the piracy.

The EU Chamber of Commerce in China's "Business Confidence Survey" warned that the overall investment climate is not improving.

"European companies are facing the same problems and difficulties as they did last year," said the Chamber's president, Joerg Wuttke, citing responses from over 200 EU businesses operating in China.

Most of the survey respondents were skeptical about China's ability and willingness to implement World Trade Organization regulations.

"Many believe that China is actively seeking to avoid WTO regulations, especially in the professional services sector," Wuttke said.

"There have been some improvements but copyright issues are still bad," he said, adding that China needs more judges, more courts and stiffer penalties for intellectural property rights violators who get away too easily.

"There is a lot of talk and not a lot of walk," Wuttke said.

The EU delegation to the Beijing summit will be led by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, and Prime Minister Jose Socrates of Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency. They are expected to deliver a stiff warning that China can no longer claim that it deserves leeway simply because it is an emerging economy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- who will hold the EU's presidency in the second half of next year -- will also be in Beijing next week and is expected to echo the demand for stiff measures against rampant piracy.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has already indicated that he is prepared to unleash the full force of trade weapons available under the WTO if Beijing continues to drag its heels on piracy. In a letter to Barroso last month, Mandelson complained that, "the Chinese juggernaut is, to some extent, out of control". He said EU trade policy should be more closely aligned with the tougher stance of the U.S., which has already launched a WTO case against Chinese piracy.
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