Hill panelists chide Bush on China piracy lag


WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on the House Ways and Means committee are losing their patience with the Bush administration's inaction over rampant piracy in China.

The chairman of the committee's trade subcommittee, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., expressed exasperation during a Thursday hearing with the slow progress China has made delivering on promises that it made to protect U.S. intellectual property.

"Why has there been this period of a half decade where the administration has not taken action yet?" Levin asked. "The price of inaction has been a very significant one."

Levin and Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., told witnesses from the nation's intellectual property industries that they wanted to push China and the White House to take more decisive action.

Herger was less critical of the White House than Levin, but he said he was "disappointed at the slow pace of reform."

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia told the panel that the administration hasn't been idle. She told the lawmakers that the administration was preparing a WTO case but held up after the Chinese agreed to talks over the issue.

"We informed China that we would be filing such a case but then agreed to hold off, with the support of U.S. industry, when China asked for further bilateral discussion," she said.

If those talks do not come to fruition soon, the White House will file suit, she said.

"If we believe that negotiations offer a reasonable chance of success, we will continue to pursue them -- a successfully negotiated outcome can be more efficient and as successful as a litigated outcome," she said. "But if it becomes clear that negotiations will not be successful, then we will proceed with WTO dispute settlement."

As a condition of its admission to the World Trade Organization, China promised to take much more aggressive action to stem the rampant piracy in that country of everything from movies to pharmaceuticals.

While China's promises looked good five years ago, they have proved to be a paper tiger.

MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said enforcement there is spotty at best. "It's selective. It's arbitrary. It's intentionally vague, and in some cases it's just not very well organized," Glickman told the committee.