|U.S. warns tax exemption on Lebanese exports may end (Daily Star)
|America insists beirut implement copyright laws
Feltman says threat has nothing to do with Security Council Resolution 1559
The United States warned on Friday that Lebanon may no longer enjoy tax exemption benefits on exported Lebanese-made products to the U.S. if the government failed to enforce intellectual property laws soon.
"The International Intellectual Property Alliance has given the Lebanese government until the month of November to improve the copy rights violations. Failing to accomplish this task will compel the U.S. government to lift the customs exemptions on Lebanese made goods," U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman told reporters in Beirut Friday.
He added that the government here had been aware of the deadline since May of this year.
"I am not sure if the U.S. will agree to give Lebanon more time to implement the copy rights law," he added.
The U.S. has been pressing the Lebanese government to crack down on the rampant copyright violations over the past few years.
The ambassador denied that the lifting of tax exemption benefits was part of the U.S. pressure on Lebanon to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls on Syria to pull its forces from the country and for the disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.
"This (decision) has nothing to do with Resolution 1559. We have been urging the government to do something about copyright violations but to no avail," Feltman said.
However, he did concede that some improvements in the crack down on copyright violations had occurred.
"Despite some improvements in the enforcement of copyrights violations, the U.S. feels that copyrights violations remains strong," Feltman said.
The failure of the government to stamp out copyrights violations may decrease the chances of Lebanon joining the World Trade Organization in 2005.
Lebanon, according to all IT organizations, ranks among the 10 worst countries globally in protecting intellectual property rights.
A few months ago, the Economy and Trade Ministry and the Interior Ministry raided numerous shops that sold pirated DVDs, computer software and games. The raids were largely ineffectual though as the authorities did not prevent most traders from producing or importing pirated software.
Experts estimate that intellectual property violations are costing companies more than $50 million in revenues a year.
The Economy and Trade Minister plans a massive media awareness campaign in November to inform people on the negative impacts of copyrights violations.
The ambassador said cable piracy is one of the more serious issues that the government has to deal with.
According to the U.S. Embassy, approximately 1,000 illegal cable operators are pirating all satellite and terrestrial television stations in Lebanon.
"Nine out of 10 households in Lebanon are subscribing to illegal cable. I am surprised that the government is still not doing anything about it," Feltman said.
He added that the Lebanese market was flooded with smuggled, counterfeit or alleged generic products that do not have proper validation.
The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) was developed by the U.S. government to allow some countries to export goods to the United States without paying any customs.
To be eligible for GSP, a country is required to provide an accounting of the extent to which a country provides adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights.
According to a U.S. Embassy statement, "Lebanon benefits greatly from the GSP program. In 2003, $30.8 million worth of Lebanese goods were imported duty free into the US. This represent more than half of the total Lebanese imports to the U.S."
The Daily Star