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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Lobby Groups Urge Tough WTO Line

WASHINGTON -- The United States should insist Moscow take stronger action to crack down on piracy and counterfeiting of U.S. music, movies and other products before signing a bilateral deal to let Russia join the World Trade Organization, U.S. business groups said.

Cal Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, said he feared the United States was not pressing Russia hard enough to reduce intellectual property theft as part of bilateral talks on Russia's WTO membership.

"We are basically saying to the administration: Take the time to do it right," Cohen told a news conference Tuesday with film, music, software, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industry groups.

"We don't want to see a train wreck, and there's a potential for a train wreck here."

The United States and Russia have been trying to finish years of negotiations before Moscow hosts the Group of Eight summit of leading world powers in July.

"We made it very clear to Russia that improvements in [intellectual property rights] are necessary for them to enter the WTO," said Christin Baker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office.

"That is why we're pursuing strong protections and much stronger enforcement not only through our bilateral agreement but also in a multilateral pact that Russia has to conclude with all WTO members."

The business groups, which all lobbied the U.S. Congress to approve a WTO deal with China in 2000, warned they might oppose a pact with Russia unless Moscow takes concrete steps to actively put a stop to piracy and counterfeiting.

"We want Russia in the WTO, but they must first abide by the rules and obligations," said Eric Schwartz, vice president of the International Intellectual Property Alliance, an umbrella organization of U.S. business associations.

There are 52 optical disc plants in Russia -- including 18 on land owned or leased by the Russian government -- producing hundreds of millions of pirated CDs and DVDs that are exported to at least 27 countries, Schwartz said.

"Enforcement at present is very, very weak ... President [Vladimir] Putin is the only one who can stop the organized crime syndicates that are producing optical disc materials that include CDs and DVDs," Schwartz said.

Another major sore spot is the Russian web site, which the U.S. Trade Representative's office has called the world's largest server-based pirate web site.

Russia could show its seriousness by abandoning proposed changes in its civil code that would weaken intellectual property rights law. It should also take other steps to reduce piracy, such as surprise plant inspections and destruction of equipment used to produce such goods, the groups said.

"Everyone [in Russia is] waiting for the word from Putin about how much emphasis to place on this issue," said Neil Turkewitz, executive vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America.