Country to resolve piracy issues prior to its inclusion

One of the most notorious intellectual property pirate countries in the world is on the verge of joining the prestigious World Trade Organization, and showbiz is casting a cold eye on the prospect.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced Friday that the Bush administration will sign a bilateral market access agreement with Russia next week. Move is considered a prelude to the country’s entry into the WTO, which the entertainment industry has opposed because of rampant bootlegging in Russia.

According to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, member companies lost $266 million to Russian pirates in 2005 alone, and over the last 10 years the number of illegal optical disk plants has swollen from two to 47. One of the biggest Web sites hawking pirated music operates in Russia, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

“Together we agreed to a binding blueprint for actions to address piracy and counterfeiting and improve protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights before Russia completes its accession to the WTO,” office of the USTR said in a statement.

“Russia has agreed to take specific actions, and to enact laws by specific dates, to fight optical disk piracy and Internet piracy, and work to enact laws by specific dates to protect pharmaceutical test data,” statement continued.

All member countries of WTO must agree to accept a new entrant, and the Republic of Georgia opposes Russia’s joining. The Russian trade ministry posted on its Web site an optimistic statement that differences could be overcome.

Congress also must grant Russia permanent normal trade relations if Russia and the U.S. are to reap the most benefit from Russian membership in WTO. Key lawmakers have sharply criticized Russia on trade and IP protection.

“We are cautiously optimistic that this bilateral agreement also addresses MPAA’s long-held position that Russia’s copyright laws and enforcement systems must be consistent with the substantive and enforcement provisions of the WTO … before Russia is permitted to accede to the WTO,” MPAA topper Dan Glickman said in a statement.

“What happens next is completely in the hands of the Russian authorities,” RIAA prexy-chairman Mitch Bainwol said in a statement. “Russia now has a very clear understanding of the steps it must take prior to conclusion of the WTO process. From here on, Russia’s deeds — rather than its words — are the only thing that matters.”

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