US notorious markets list adds AliExpress, WeChat

The latest report by the US Trade Representative on notorious markets for counterfeit and pirated goods has included Alibaba's AliExpress service and social media platform WeChat for the first time.

All told, the 2021 list identifies 42 online markets and 35 physical markets that according to the USTR facilitate "substantial trademark counterfeiting or copyright piracy", and that includes a number of other China-based e-commerce sites, including Alibaba's Taobao, Baidu Wangpan, DHGate, and Pinduoduo.

The list – which has been prepared since 2006 – still excludes North American sites that have been shown to carry counterfeits however, such as Amazon, Facebook, Shopify and Wish, and this is a perennial criticism of its scope.

Earlier editions included Amazon's ex-US platforms including its sites in the UK, Germany, Spain, France and Italy, but these are no longer listed.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), which represents around 1,000 brands, is among those that have been pushing for a broadening of the list's scope.

"While USTR listed many key notorious markets recommended by AAFA, the report missed the opportunity to hold certain major platforms accountable where the sale, and promotion, of counterfeits continues to proliferate and target unknowing American consumers," said the AAFA in a statement.

The USTR acknowledges that the list "is not an exhaustive account of all physical and online markets worldwide in which IP infringement may take place," adding that a broader analysis of IP protection and enforcement in particular countries or economies is presented in the annual Special 301 report published at the end of April each year.

Recent editions of the document include a snapshot of one particular aspect of counterfeiting and piracy, and the latest edition covers the adverse impact of counterfeiting on workers involved with the manufacture of fake goods.

That includes exploitation of vulnerable people, says the USTR, citing recent evidence of forced and/or child labour in Turkey and China, although it said there is very little data to draw on when appraising the impact of this trade.

There should be more data-sharing between brand owners and enforcement authorities that work to shut down counterfeiting operations, it recommends.

"The global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods undermines critical U.S. innovation and creativity and harms American workers,” said USTR Ambassador Katherine Tai.

"This illicit trade also increases the vulnerability of workers involved in the manufacturing of counterfeit goods to exploitative labour practices, and the counterfeit goods can pose significant risks to the health and safety of consumers and workers around the world."

In the 2021 report, USTR urges e-commerce platforms to "take proactive and effective steps to reduce piracy and counterfeiting ... by establishing and adhering to strong quality control procedures in both direct-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer sales, vetting third-party sellers, engaging with right holders to quickly address complaints, and working with law enforcement to identify IP violators."

Many of those elements are included in legislation making its way through Congress – the SHOP SAFE Act and INFORM Consumers Act - which have now been combined into the broader America COMPETES Act.

The bill passed the House on February 4 and has now headed to the Senate for reconciliation with the latter's related US Innovation and Competition Act, which was passed on June 8 last year.

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