Strategy, task force to be endorsed June 21.

The European Union and the United States joined forces Tuesday (June 20) in a new effort to crack down on the massive growth in piracy and counterfeiting of products.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and EU industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen gathered with US commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez to unveil a program designed to reverse a global counterfeiting culture which has seen a boom in trafficking of fake CDs and DVDS.

The strategy and task force will be endorsed at the EU-US summit in Vienna Wednesday (June 21), gathering President George Bush, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.

Today's development was welcomed in a joint statement by European and American groups that included the MPAA, the IFPI, the International Music Publishers Association (IMPA), the US Chamber of Commerce and the European business group UNICE.

"Efficient and effective intellectual property enforcement is crucial for both developed and developing countries," the joint statement noted. "The economies of many developing countries depend on inward investment for the manufacture of products based on intellectual property. This much-needed investment is seriously threatened by counterfeiting and piracy."

IFPI chairman/CEO John Kennedy added that the fast growing problem of online piracy threatened to stifle the emergence of a thriving, legitimate digital music business. "Tackling online piracy now is an essential step towards unlocking the extraordinary growth potential of China and Russia as music markets," he commented.

The strategy will include closer customs co-operation, joint enforcement in third countries, and greater collaboration with the private sector. The focus will initially be on China and Russia. There are also plans to set up a network of diplomats specialized in anti-counterfeiting operations.

"The issue of intellectual property protection goes to the heart of the ability of the EU and the US to compete in the global economy because our high-value goods have strong intellectual content," Mandelson said, adding that Europe was "exasperated" by the poor copyright protection in China. "Stepping up the enforcement fight required a joint strategy and it needed to have some teeth."

Verheugen said businesses would not be able to win the global race with rock-bottom prices and low quality. "When ideas or brands and products are pirated, ripped-off and counterfeited, this strategy is doomed," he said.

The number of counterfeit items seized within European borders has increased by more than 1,000% between 1998 and 2004, rising from 10 million in 1998 to over 103 million in 2004, according to the EU. Commission officials reiterated that counterfeiting was increasingly linked to organized crime.