US offers helping hand after the sting of 301 Watch List


The Thai Department of Intellectual Property has announced that the United States has offered to give assistance and share information with Thai personnel to help the government in its fight against piracy. Under the scheme the Thai government will send officials to the United States for training to help them gain knowledge and skills in dealing with counterfeiting and piracy.

The news follows the publication of the Special 301 Report of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), where Thailand was elevated from the Watch List (where it had appeared for 11 years), to the Priority Watch List. The reasons for this elevation were given as the deteriorating protection for trademarks, copyrights and patents in Thailand.

The elevation came as little surprise to many Thais and the Thai government. In November 2006 and January 2007 the Ministry of Public Health's Drug Control Division issued notifications for compulsory use (normally called 'compulsory licensing' (CL)) of three drug patents, one for heart disease and the other two for the treatment of HIV/Aids. Despite a statement from the US ambassador to Thailand, Ralph Boyce, saying that the USTR's decision did not stem from the CL issue alone but also resulted from a lack of adequate and effective protection of IP rights, the CL issue was the only new reason cited in the 2007 Special 301 Report.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance has welcomed the USTR's decision.

However, there are fears that the change in status could open Thailand up to punitive trade measures such as the loss of generalized system of preferences (GSP) privileges. Even though its Watch List status does not directly relate to the grant of GSP privileges, some believe that the US government may take this into consideration when it is time to decide whether to extend such privileges for Thailand in July this year.

In 2006 alone, Thai exports under the US GSP programme amounted to $4.252 billion, up 19% over $3.575 billion in 2005, and accounting for some 20% of the total Thai exports to the US market. If GSP privileges were cut this would inevitably put pressure on Thailand's economy, thus, increasing problems for the incumbent government.

For this reason it is likely that all sectors of the Thai government will do everything possible to improve IP rights enforcement in order to try to return Thailand to the Watch List next year. It is hoped that the US offer of aid in training Thai personnel in anti-piracy measures will help in this effort.

Say Sujintaya and Piyawat Kayasit, Baker & McKenzie, Bangkok

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