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National Journal - Coburn Says WTO Ignoring Intellectual Property Concerns

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National Journal - Coburn Says WTO Ignoring Intellectual Property Concerns

By Alyson Klein

The World Trade Organization is dragging its feet in cracking down on China's infringement of U.S. intellectual property rights, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Financial Management Subcommittee Chairman Tom Coburn, R-Okla., charged today.

Coburn said the issue was symptomatic of larger problems within the WTO, which he contended at a subcommittee hearing may need to be revamped. Sitting in front of a large gold and blue banner calling for "Accountability" and "Transparency" within the organization, Coburn and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., grilled James Mendenhall, acting general counsel of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, about why the United States has not brought a formal case against China under the WTO's dispute resolution process.

Mendenhall said the case was still in the fact-finding phase and that while there is "widespread anecdotal evidence" that Chinese companies are engaging in piracy, "knowing it intuitively is different from being able to prove it in dispute settlement."

But Coburn said the process was not moving swiftly enough to protect U.S. businesses.

"Ten years from now may be too late for most of our software, most of our music," Coburn said. "How long can you afford to wait before you bring them into compliance?"

Levin pressed Mendenhall to give a timetable for completing the investigation, but Mendenhall said he could not provide one.
Coburn also questioned whether the WTO was consulting with state lawmakers when negotiating trade agreements. He noted that the National Conference of State Legislatures had written a letter to Trade Representative Portman complaining that the group had been shut out of discussions on trade deals.

Coburn added that he would "consider it a personal favor" if Mendenhall and Portman would review recommendations made by Claude Barfield, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, for overhauling the WTO. Barfield, who also testified today, suggested changes in the WTO's mediation and rule-making processes, which he called "ineffective and consensus-plagued."

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