USTR adds Amazon sites to ‘notorious markets’ list

Five of Amazon’s overseas websites have been added to the US Trade Representative’s Special 301 list of notorious markets that allow “substantial trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy.”

For the first time ever, the USTR has added Amazon’s Canadian, French, German, Indian and UK sites to the list amid complaints by brand owners that they carry high levels of counterfeit goods and it can be difficult to establish exactly who is selling the goods.

They also say it is too easy to become a seller on the sites because of inadequate vetting procedures, and that Amazon’s counterfeit removal processes can be “lengthy and burdensome, even for right holders that enrol in Amazon’s brand protection programmes.”

There has been pressure from trade organisations such as the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) to get Amazon included in the Special 301 report for some time, and it was among those requesting that the five ex-US sites be listed.

After the new list emerged, AAFA chief executive Steve Lamar praised the list, without mentioning Amazon specifically, and said: “consumers are learning the hard way that counterfeits affect more than lost sales for famous brands.”

“They also expose purchasers of everyday basics and essentials to a range of quality concerns and product safety risks,” he added, noting that this has become particularly apparent during the COVID-19 crisis.

“While we are sickened to hear reports of the fake masks and other bogus items of personal protective equipment that have been trafficked, online sales of fake shoes, pants, shirts, and other articles of clothing can be equally dangerous if they violate product safety standards,” said Lamar.

Amazon is incensed by the move, which it suggests is linked to feuding between the company and President Trump and ignores the strenuous efforts it has made to tackle counterfeiting.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post newspaper, which Trump has repeatedly accused of unfair coverage. Meanwhile, Amazon is challenging an administration decision to switch a lucrative cloud computing contract with the Department of Defense to Microsoft.

“We strongly disagree with the characterization of Amazon in this USTR report,” said the e-commerce giant in a statement. “This purely political act is another example of the administration using the US government to advance a personal vendetta against Amazon.”

Amazon is just one of 37 online marketplaces included in the latest edition. Among the larger commercial players included are Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, business-to-business e-commerce player DHgate and discount marketplace Pindoduo – all based in China – and India’s fast-growing SnapDeal platform.

It also includes physical markets in 20 countries, including China, India, Brazil, Russia, Spain and Turkey, amongst others.

Counterfeiting and piracy “harms the American economy by undermining the innovation and intellectual property rights of US IP owners in foreign markets,” said the USTR.

“An estimated 2.5 per cent, or nearly half a trillion dollars’ worth, of imports worldwide are counterfeit and pirated products.”ends

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