Beijing Takes Aim at Counterfeit Goods

Tries to curb knockoffs in time for Summer Games

Visitors hoping to stock up on China's infamous array of counterfeit goods when they come to Beijing for the Olympics may be disappointed, with authorities carrying out a pre-Games crackdown.

The city's bountiful supply of counterfeit DVDs and fashion accessories is either drying up or looked set to do so, merchants told AFP, as China cleans its house of anything embarrassing before opening up to the world for the Aug. 8-24 Games.

Piracy of copyrighted products is a traditional irritant in ties with China's trading partners, who have long accused Beijing of failing to curb an industry that foreign firms say costs them billions of dollars in lost sales each year.

The counterfeit goods can be found throughout the country and include DVDs, fake brand-name clothing, shoes and handbags.

Even pirated versions of popular books such as the Harry Potter series have hit China's black markets within days of their home country releases.

The U.S. filed a case against China in April last year at the World Trade Organization over the problem.

But with China now cracking down on everything from prostitution to possible security threats in advance of the Olympics, merchants said it was the desire to avoid embarrassment during the Games -- not any foreign pressure -- that finally nudged authorities into action.

The capital's many multi-level fake-goods emporiums continued to openly hawk counterfeits this week, but merchants were feeling the pressure.

"We don't have any more Abercrombie, Louis Vuitton or Coach bags because of the crackdown," says Wang Yi, a woman minding a stall at the Yashow Clothing Market said, referring to counterfeit versions of those brand-name products.

She says new restrictions on vehicles entering Beijing had cut off new supplies from factories outside of the city.

"We will be shutdown soon. We're not sure when, but it is coming," she says.

"So you buy now," she says, switching to English. "I give you good price."

Last month, China's top negotiator in trade talks with the United States, Wang Qishan, touted a new strategy to curb intellectual property piracy that includes tougher enforcement and penalties, and law revisions that encourage Chinese innovation.

But sellers of counterfeit products scoffed at suggestions they'll be out of commission past the Olympics.

A woman who runs a fake-DVD shop behind the Yashow market says they may be forced to relocate to somewhere more discreet during the Games but they will stay in business.

"The police haven't made us remove our counterfeit DVDs (yet). Our boss is too formidable," she says.

Asked if that meant he paid bribes to the police, she nodded with a laugh.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse

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