US-China tensions colour race to head UN patent agency

 

February 27. 2020

 


Chinese Ambassador Chen Xu giving a press conference on the upcoming elections to head the World Intellectual Property Organisation, at the United Nations offices in Geneva, on Feb 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

 

GENEVA (AFP) – Washington is warning about the prospect of a Chinese national heading the United Nations patent agency, saying that putting Beijing in charge of global intellectual property protection would be a “terrible mistake”.

“We want a candidate who comes from a country with a history of protecting IP (intellectual property),” US Ambassador Andrew Bremberg told AFP in a recent interview.

“China does not have that history,” he said, voicing alarm at the idea of allowing the influential World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) to be headed by a country where IP theft and counterfeiting are rife.

China, meanwhile, has accused Washington of turning next week’s election to replace Australian Francis Gurry after 12 years at the Wipo helm “into a political game”.

Chinese Ambassador Chen Xu told reporters on Wednesday (Feb 26) that his country’s candidate, Ms Wang Binying, who has served as Wipo’s deputy chief for a decade, was clearly “the strongest candidate”.

But “we have got the impression that the Americans are trying to do whatever they can and… they exert pressures (to vote for) anyone but China”, he said.

Ms Wang is among six candidates in the running for the post when Mr Gurry steps down in September, with the others coming from Colombia, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Peru and Singapore.

The US has not officially endorsed any of the candidates, but according to diplomatic sources has been putting its weight behind Mr Daren Tang, who currently heads Singapore’s intellectual property office.

Washington has, meanwhile, not been shy about its objection to Ms Wang winning the post.

In an opinion piece published in the Financial Times on Sunday, Mr Peter Navarro, who heads a White House office on trade and manufacturing, wrote that “giving control of Wipo to a representative of China would be a terrible mistake.”

Mr Bremberg pointed to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showing that 85 per cent of counterfeit goods globally came from China and Hong Kong. “That is a problem,” he said.

“Counterfeiting damages owners and users of IP,” he said, stressing in particular the impact such activities can have in developing countries in terms of job losses and factory closures.

Mr Bremberg acknowledged he was “working very closely with other Wipo member states… to ensure that a top-notch, very well-qualified candidate is the one who is elected.”

Mr Chen pointed out that China was one of the world’s top patent applicants and insisted that it has “firmly established the concept that protecting intellectual property is protecting innovation”. He slammed the US “attack” as “unfair”, adding: “We don’t believe it is a constructive approach”.

Mr Bremberg said he was seeing a “clear awakening” among country representatives to the importance of who leads Wipo. “The economic importance of Wipo really can’t be overstated,” he said.

In the US, he said, “IP-intensive industries account for nearly one-third of all employment and approximately 40 per cent of US GDP. That’s an estimated US$6.6 trillion.

The US has also warned that allowing a Chinese national to ascend to the top of Wipo would give the country far too much influence within the UN as a whole.

Chinese citizens currently head four out of 15 specialised UN agencies: the International Telecommunication Union, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN Industrial Development Organisation, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

If WIPO is added to the list, China would have nationals at the helm of a full third of the agencies, while no other country heads more than one, Mr Navarro pointed out.

“The US and the rest of the UN must also act quickly to assess – and counteract – China’s broader efforts to control other international organisations,” he wrote.

Chen dismissed this argument, insisting that there was no “China’s control or China’s intention to dominate”.

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