30 April 2007 — By Robin Gross, IP Justice Executive Director

The Bush Administration’s Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) issued its much anticipated annual report of foreign countries targeted by the US for insufficiently protecting the interests of US intellectual property owners abroad. Under “Section 301” countries face crippling trade sanctions in retaliation from the US.

A total of 43 countries were placed on the USTR’s Section 301 Report in 2007. According to the annual review, US monopolies on producing medicine, CDs, and DVDs continue to be the main focus of US IPR foreign policy.

China and Russia received a special lashing from the Bush Administration and were placed on the more serious “Priority Watch List” – as expected. According to the USTR, “Priority Watch List countries will be the subject of particularly intense engagement through bilateral discussion during the coming year.”

The 12 countries targeted on Priority Watch List (PWL) are Argentina, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela. Of those countries, only Thailand was not given the PWL status in 2006, marking heightened attention for Thailand.

The USTR stated that the 30 countries on the lower Watch List will also be the subject of bilateral negotiations in 2007.

The USTR’s “Watch List” status includes: Belarus, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Korea, Kuwait, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Paraguay is again being monitored subject to Section 306 under a bi-lateral “Memorandum of Understanding” that outlines Paraguay’s objectives and actions for protecting US IPR interests in that country.

The report underscores that bi-lateral agreements, often mis-labeled as “Free Trade Agreements” continue to be the main game for the US to impose IPR rules on other countries. But according to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning Chief Economist at the World Bank from 1997-2000, these free trade agreements “are neither fair nor free”.

The Special 301 Report reveals how US IPR foreign policy smacks of imperialism by forcing countries to change their laws and social practices to conform with US interests. And the report does not reflect the true US interest, but rather a narrow special interest: the powerful lobby that consists mainly of US movie and recording companies together with the pharmaceutical industry.

Furthermore, the report does not evaluate whether or not foreign countries meet their obligations under international IP treaties such as TRIPS — many of the targeted countries do, such as Canada, Brazil, and Italy.

And while foreign countries are forced to enact many of the more restrictive IPR provisions found in the US, none of the balance found in the US, such as fair use, reverse engineering, and compulsory licensing of emergency medicines are permitted in the foreign country’s “reformed” intellectual property laws. Technological innovation, access to knowledge and medicines, and free expression depend upon these legal limitations to a monopolist’s power.

IP Justice prepared a table that summarizes the USTR Special 301 Reports from 2004-2006.

IP Watch has also published a good article on today’s Special 301 Report.