U.S. is close to calling off sanctions against China 11th-hour trade talks on ending piracy are nearing agreement


BEIJING -- China and the United States neared agreement early today on how to fight the piracy of music, movies and computer software, as trade negotiators appeared ready to call off $2 billion in trade sanctions that are scheduled to take effect today.

Charlene Barshefsky, the acting U.S. trade representative, stayed at the negotiating table well past midnight, seated across from China's deputy trade minister, Shi Guangsheng, to work on final aspects of documents on which they expected to agree, a U.S. official said.

True to the brinkmanship that often characterizes trade negotiations, officials on each side maintained tough-talking postures in public, all the way up to the late-evening session that began after 10 p.m. yesterday.

By evening, U.S. officials said that the end seemed near. Barshefsky would not have come to Beijing three days before the trade sanctions deadline, they said, if she did not feel she could bring the talks to a conclusion.

"It's close, but she'll take the last hours to get as much as she can out of them," said a U.S. diplomat.

In February 1995, Barshefsky went to the brink of trade sanctions as she negotiated a landmark agreement on intellectual property rights. This year the overriding issue is how to enforce it.

Officials said that one area on which Barshefsky concentrated was how to verify that compact-disc plants that were shut down did not simply reopen a few weeks later, or operate clandestinely at night, as some factories have done over the past year.

The Chinese side pledged to reregister every compact-disc producer, to introduce stricter licensing procedures and to improve on-site supervision.

Until an agreement is reached and made public, however, it will remain unclear whether such efforts offer hope of genuine improvement.

While officially opposed to intellectual-property violations, China's central government has seemed to lack the political will to sort through intricate webs of influence among local officials and military officers that often surround pirates in southern China.

Enforcement is a touchy issue, since Chinese officials bristle when foreigners tell them how to conduct legal affairs.

Over the past year, enforcement has been expanded, but it has largely been carried out by local officials, who have often gone through the motions while leaving the real pirates unaffected.

The piracy of U.S. copyrights and trademarks in China -- soap brands, fast-food logos, even whole cars are copied -- is actually so common that it is impossible to quantify. U.S. officials have focused on compact discs because their production seemed the easiest to quantify.

Washington has favored encouraging U.S. music-industry companies to enter joint ventures with Chinese compact-disc plants. But it is unclear whether any U.S. music company would willingly enter a partnership with a company known to be pirating music.

Pub Date: 6/17/96

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