EU declines to join WTO piracy complaint

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BRUSSELS -- The European Union said Thursday that it will not take part in the U.S. challenge against China at the World Trade Organization over rampant copyright piracy.

"We do not, at this moment, think that it is time for the European Union to go to the WTO court," EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said in Beijing. "We will not join this complaint."

Reding said that while Europe faces similar problems with China over piracy, it will follow the complaint only as an observer.

"We agree with the substance that intellectual property rights have to be preserved and that there has to be a fair remuneration for those who have invested into research and development," she said.

China is the fourth-biggest supplier to Europe of pirated DVDs and CDs -- after Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan -- accounting for 8% of seizures.

The commissioner met Wednesday and Thursday with five Chinese ministers responsible for media, information technologies, industry and science and urged the government to tackle the problem swiftly. "I have asked the Chinese government to give a very explicit signal to the industry that the industry has to solve the problem of IPR through industrial negotiations," she said.

Reding also said she remains concerned about media freedom in China, especially government controls over the Internet. "Leave the Internet free without government intervention," she said, though she welcomed Beijing's move to relax restrictions on the movement of foreign reporters in the run-up to next year's Olympics.

Charging that China was breaking its 2001 WTO entry agreement, the U.S. on Tuesday sought consultations with Beijing over piracy and blocked access for U.S. films, music and software. Despite a number of crackdowns by the Chinese government, counterfeit goods are still widely available in the country. U.S. movie, music and other intellectual property-based companies say they lost more than $2.6 billion in China last year because of pirates, who control as much as 90% of the market.

But the EU decision to stay out of the dispute means the Bush administration will face a risky battle in its WTO challenge. Though the U.S. could eventually win its dispute panel at the Geneva-based trade watchdog, it will take at least 15 months to complete, and even longer to ensure that any subsequent remedies are properly implemented.

European officials, mindful of Beijing's sensitivity to outside criticism, say they prefer to quietly convince the Chinese leadership to take unilateral action against pirates and counterfeiters. They point out that Chinese bureaucracy can be painfully slow, particularly in the country's more remote provinces, so support from the highest levels of power will be far more effective than any WTO ruling in battling piracy.

Beijing already has reacted angrily to the U.S. move to file a WTO complaint, saying it will "seriously damage the two countries' established cooperation and bring an unfavorable impact on bilateral trade."
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