The United States is launching a new crackdown on counterfeit goods that cost U.S. businesses hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
Whether it is a fake Rolex watch or a cheap copy of a Zippo lighter, the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is growing around the world and U.S. officials say they are determined to stop it.
On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans and other top officials announced a new program called STOP, which stands for Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy, at a Washington news conference.
"We will stop trade in fakes at American borders," he said. "We will raise the stakes for international property thieves. We will work closely with the private sector to keep fakes out of the global supply chains. We will dismantle criminal enterprises that steal intellectual property."
The fake products trade has exploded in recent years and involves a range of goods, including fake parts for cars and planes, cigarettes, perfume and even birth control pills.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the trade in fraudulent goods cost American businesses more than $250 billion last year alone. Worldwide, estimates for the sales of fake goods go as high as $600 billion or about seven percent of the total of world trade.
Secretary Evans says the trade in pirated goods also costs some American workers their jobs.
Zippo, the Pennsylvania lighter manufacturer, told us that a flood of Chinese counterfeit lighters was hurting their business and costing jobs," he said. "One job for every 20,000 counterfeit lighters."
Some of the products are also dangerous. Faulty brake pads for automobiles that quickly deteriorate and batteries made so cheaply they could blow up under sunlight.
"Last year, law enforcement agents seized hundreds of thousands of counterfeit batteries, which contained unsafe levels of mercury and were so poorly manufactured that exposure to sunlight could result in the explosion of the battery," said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
U.S. officials expressed particular concern about China, a leading producer of pirated goods. But U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says that in the age of the Internet, there is worldwide potential for fraudulent products hitting the market place very quickly.
"This is now real time theft," he said. "A counterfeit operation can get a new design and produce copies, without regard to quality or safety, and ship them within 24 hours. And is our small and medium sized business that have been most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves."
The new crackdown on fake goods involves a task force from several U.S. government agencies as well as cooperation from private companies and from a host of countries around the world.