US adds another China e-commerce site to 'notorious' IP blacklist

Pinduoduo.com, China's third largest e-commerce platform, was added to the US Trade Representative's blacklist of commercial marketplaces that fail to curb the sale of counterfeit products.
Pinduoduo.com, China's third largest e-commerce platform, was added to the US Trade Representative's blacklist of commercial marketplaces that fail to curb the sale of counterfeit products. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM PINDUODUO.COM

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States on Thursday (April 25) added China's third-largest e-commerce platform to its list of "notorious markets" for violations of intellectual property rights, and kept China on its priority watch list for piracy and counterfeiting concerns.

The US Trade Representative's (USTR) Office placed Pinduoduo.com, which the USTR described as third largest by number of users, on its blacklist of commercial marketplaces that fail to curb the sale of counterfeit products.

It also kept Alibaba Group's taobao.com, China's largest e-commerce platform, on the list.

The USTR's annual review of trading partners' protection of intellectual properties rights and so-called "notorious markets" comes as the US and China are embroiled in negotiations to end a tit-for-tat tariff battle that has roiled supply chains and cost both countries billions of dollars.

The two countries are due to resume talks in Beijing next week.

China's inclusion on the list "reflects the urgent need to remediate a range of intellectual property-related concerns", a USTR official told reporters on a call to discuss the report.

He noted longstanding concerns that have been voiced by the Trump administration in the trade talks, including "coercive" technology transfer requirements, widespread copyright infringement and "rampant" piracy and counterfeiting.

 

The official declined to discuss how the talks with China were going, but said that additional actions using Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 were possible.

The US has levied tariffs on US$250 billion (S$340 billion) worth of Chinese goods under the act.

Of Pinduoduo.com, the USTR said in the report: "Many of (the site's) price-conscious shoppers are reportedly aware of the proliferation of counterfeit products on pinduoduo.com but are nevertheless attracted to the low-priced goods on the platform."

In response to the report, a Pinduoduo spokesman called counterfeit goods "an industry-wide problem" and said it would work with trade associations, brand rights holders and regulators to help clean up its site.

"To ensure a world-class shopping experience for our consumers, we have introduced one of the strictest penalties for counterfeit merchants in our industry in China, collaborated closely with law enforcement and employed technologies to proactively take down suspicious products," the spokesman said in a statement.

While Alibaba has taken steps to address counterfeit products offered and sold on the Taobao marketplace, companies continue to see widespread infringement, the USTR said.

A spokesman for Alibaba said the company disagreed with the USTR's decision to keep it on the list, adding that the company's practices are considered "best-in-class" by industry members.

Mr Brion Tingler, Alibaba's head of external affairs, said in an e-mailed statement: "In fact, zero industry associations called for our inclusion in the report this year. We will continue to wage this fight against counterfeiters."

ADDITIONAL ENGAGEMENT

A total of 36 countries were on this year's overall watch list of trade partners warranting additional bilateral engagement over these issues, including Russia and India.

In addition, the USTR raised Saudi Arabia to include it among 11 countries on the priority list. The bump-up in Saudi Arabia's status as a concern was in part due to an illicit service for pirated content called BeoutQ, the report said.

Despite "extensive engagement" in Saudi Arabia by both US government and private stakeholders, treatment of intellectual property rights "continued to deteriorate", the USTR said.

Canada was removed as a priority because of commitments made in the US-Canada-Mexico trade pact agreed in 2018. It remained on the overall watch list, however. Tajikistan was removed from the list due to "concrete steps" to improve its intellectual property regime, the agency said.

The USTR also called out free trade zones as places where counterfeiting can be rampant. In thousands of such zones across 130 economies, including in Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore, manufacturers and logistics companies are subject to different customs regulations and duties than they are elsewhere, it said.

More "barrier-free" environments can draw illegal activity like the trade and manufacture of counterfeit and pirated goods without proper oversight, the USTR said.