Commerce Secretary To Tackle Piracy on Trip

Carlos Gutierrez (search) in his first trip to Russia and China as commerce secretary plans to urge both countries to crack down on the pirating of American movies, music and computer programs, which costs U.S. companies billions of dollars a year.

The Bush administration has been prodding Russia and China — both hotbeds for such theft — to move forward in this area.

"I will be emphasizing how important it is for our country to see progress in the area of intellectual property," Gutierrez said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. That emphasis will be part of broader ta Gref, Russia's economic development and trade minister, and Chinese Commerce Minister Bo Xilai.

Gutierrez's trip comes amid rising trade tensions between the United States and China over Beijing trade and currency practices that U.S. manufacturers and other critics contend are hurting sales of U.S. goods abroad and costing U.S. jobs.

U.S.-China trade is a politically sensitive issue for the administration. America's trade deficit (search) with China set a record last year, $162 billion. That was the largest imbalance ever with a single country.

On the intellectual property rights (search) front, U.S. industry has estimated it is losing between $200 billion and $250 billion a year because of copyright piracy around the world.

The administration in April put China, Russia and 12 other nations on a priority watch list, which subjects the countries to special reviews of their efforts to deal with the theft of U.S. copyrighted materials such as movies, music and computer software.

Russia and China "have made progress on establishing laws to protect intellectual property. What we would like to see is enforcement of those laws," Gutierrez said. "So we'll be talking about their plans to enforce those laws and anything that we can do to help them enforce their laws."

Gutierrez predecessor Don Evans, in his final trip to China as a member of the administration, had pressed Beijing for copyright violators to get stiff prison sentences. Gutierrez didn't say if that is something he would be specifically pushing.

Disputes involving China's clothing imports to the United States also will be high on the agenda.

The United States, responding to complaints from U.S. producers, recently announced that it was limiting the amount of Chinese apparel that can be shipped to the United States.

On Friday, China, which objected to the U.S. limits, said a new tax it set up to control surging textile exports won't apply to goods hit by the U.S. quotas.

Gutierrez didn't weigh in on China's announcement, saying it would be discussed at his meeting with Chinese officials.

"We'll be talking about a lot of matters of interest to both countries and one of them of course will be textiles," Gutierrez said. "This is an opportunity to understand how they are thinking about this important issue, and I will know a lot more after my visit."

The administration also has turned up the heat on China to stop linking its currency, the yuan, to the U.S. dollar. Critics contend China is keeping its currency artificially low, which gives the country an unfair trade advantage.

Lobbying on the currency matter, Gutierrez said, will be left to Treasury Secretary John Snow.

Gutierrez plans to visit St. Petersburg and Moscow May 28 through June 1 and Beijing from June 2 through June 4.