Clinton defers citation of China's infringement of U.S. copyright laws

May 01, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration backed away yesterday from citing China for pirating American movies, music and computer software after top officials decided in a flurry of meetings and phone calls that launching a new trade action could complicate already touchy relations with Beijing.

"We're in a very delicate time, in terms of our engagement with China . . ." U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor told reporters.

"My thinking about China was affected by the fact that the period between now and June 3 is critical for the relations between our two countries," he added, referring to the upcoming deadline for U.S. renewal of Beijing's preferential trade status -- a decision that will hinge on China's human rights record.

Instead of acting now against China, Mr. Kantor said, the administration would give the Beijing government at least 60 days before starting the process of imposing trade sanctions. The announcement came only hours before a Saturday midnight deadline set by Congress for listing countries that have violated American copyright laws.

In addition to China, he identified Argentina and India as leading violators of American copyrights and intellectual property rights. But he delayed action against these two countries too, primarily on grounds that they appear to be making progress in addressing the problem.

The justification for delaying action against China was based not on signs of progress, but on the sensitivity of U.S. relations with the world's most populous country.

Some industry representatives reacted sharply to the administration's decision.

China "has made little or no effort to take its immense piracy problem seriously," said Eric H. Smith, executive director of the International Intellectual Property Alliance, representing the recording and computer software industries.

"This is a mere postponement of the inevitable, and we fear it will send the wrong signal -- that the U.S. statutory deadlines remain flexible," he added.

Mr. Kantor noted that one objective of the delay is to keep the piracy issue separate from the more fundamental question of whether the United States should renew China's trade privileges in this country.

Under U.S. law, the president must decide by June 3 whether to extend China's "most favored nation" (MFN) trade benefits, under which Chinese goods are exported to this country with the same low tariff rates enjoyed by almost all other countries.

Last year, President Clinton signed an executive order calling upon China to make "overall significant progress" on human rights issues before its benefits are renewed. China has reacted furiously to the order, saying it will never tailor its domestic

policies in response to pressure from another nation.

The postponement is an indication of how the continuing U.S. dispute with China over human rights issues and MFN benefits is beginning to affect other policy areas.

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