Mandelson won't rule out joining U.S. action at WTO

Warning casts China issue in new light

In what could represent an about-face in EU policy, EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said Thursday that he has not ruled out joining the U.S. in its World Trade Organization suit against China over piracy (HR 4/20).

The warning came a week after his commission colleague, audiovisual and media commissioner Viviane Reding, had suggested the EU would not take part in such an action against the flood of pirated movies, music and software originating from China.

Mandelson said that China has a poor record when it comes to protecting intellectual property rights and warned that the EU could follow in Washington's footsteps with its own case at the Geneva-based WTO.

"If dialogue doesn't work, there are other instruments at our disposal, including the initiation of WTO cases. I do not rule out initiating or joining action at the WTO if in our view China is failing to take its responsibilities seriously," he said. "China has agreed to protect IPR. It did so when it joined the WTO and, despite considerable efforts by the Chinese government, IPR protection in China remains patchy and uneven."

Any decision by the EC — the EU's executive authority — to join the U.S. suit would be initiated by Mandelson, not Reding, though it would have to be backed by the EC's 27 members. EU officials tried to play down the apparent dissonance between the two commissioners, but Mandelson's comments suggest either a turnaround in Brussels' handling of Chinese piracy, or that Reding was speaking out of turn.

Earlier this month, Washington 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.