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The United States Trade Representative Office (USTR) has removed the Philippines from its "Out-of-Cycle" review of markets prone to piracy of intellectual property, following the latter's efforts to crack down on piracy. According to the Philippine Intellectual Property Office (IPO), the removal of the Philippines from the review was partly due to the passage of the anti-camcording law, which was a step forward in curbing illegal camcording activities in the country and fighting film piracy. However, the USTR said that the Philippines still has insufficient laws to protect goods and items traded in physical and virtual marketplaces. PHL still in Ordinary Watch List The USTR also rejected proposals from lobby groups and business organizations in Washington D.C. to include the Philippines in the Priority Watch List of countries that violate intellectual property rights and copyright laws. Instead, the USTR, in its 2010 report released last month, retained the Philippines in the Ordinary Watch List, the IPO said. The Philippines was in the Priority Watch List until 2009. “The United States recognizes that in 2010 the Philippines took the important step of enacting legislation to address unauthorized camcording of motion pictures in theaters, and encourages the Philippines to enforce this new law effectively in order to deter the theft of motion pictures," the 2010 USTR report said. 'One step away from full removal' IPO Director General Ricardo Blancaflor said he was pleased with the announcement, saying “we are only one step away from being removed completely." Removal from the watchlist is expected to boost Philippine trade with the US. A country's efforts to curb violations of intellectual property rights —such as the trade and the manufacture of fake goods, pirated films and software— are among the criteria in the availment of the US' Generalized System of Preference, which provides duty-free entry for specific products from certain countries. The USTR acknowledged the progress in the country's enforcement efforts and the passage of legislation against unauthorized recording of films in cinemas last year, Blancaflor said. According to Blancaflor, the IPO implemented a holistic approach in curbing piracy and counterfeiting. He noted that the office employed a collective approach with, law enforcers, government agencies and rights holders and that these parties cooperated with each other. “Ensuring an effective enforcement strategy against IPR violations is part of the government’s broader goal to establish an IP-friendly Philippines," Blancaflor said. The USTR reviews trading partners and places them on the Priority Watch List, the Ordinary Watch List, or the Section 306 monitoring list, depending on the country’s protection for intellectual property rights (IPR). Countries placed on the priority watch list are the focus of increased bilateral attention concerning problem areas on IPR. Room for improvement Despite the Philippines' removal from the Out-of-Cycle review, the USTR noted that the country still has to improve the enforcement of IPR laws before it can be removed from the list. According to the report, trade and manufacture of counterfeit goods remain rampant in the Philippines. In early 2011, the USTR included the Quiapo market in Manila as one of the world's most Notorious Markets List for illegal and counterfeit goods. “Quiapo is just one example of several locations and neighborhoods, especially in metropolitan Manila, known to deal in counterfeit and pirated goods such as clothing, shoes, watches and handbags," the report said. “The United States urges the responsible authorities to intensify efforts to combat piracy and counterfeiting in these and similar markets, and to use the information contained in the Notorious Markets List to pursue legal action where appropriate," it noted. Aside from marketplaces, the Notorious Markets List also contained Internet websites dedicated to filesharing and torrent tracker sites. PHL has insufficient IP laws, says USTR The USTR also noted that the Philippines does not have sufficient laws to protect copyrights of goods traded in the physical world and on the Internet. The proposed laws on this are still pending in Congress. “ That legislation would, among other things, implement the WIPO [ World Intellectual Property Organization] Internet Treaties. The United States also encourages the Philippines to take steps to implement its 2011 IPR action plan," the report. The Philippines acceded to the WIPO treaty on copyright and ratified the treaty concerning the use, control, and protection of copyrighted recordings and performances on the Internet under the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty in 2002. Although it has been almost a decade since the ratification of these treaties, the present laws to implement these are lacking in teeth and haven't been updated, the USTR said. The USTR noted that the judicial process to bring counterfeiters and violators to justice remains slow, with convictions few and far in between. According to the USTR report released last month: “The judicial system remains inefficient, with very few criminal IPR cases resulting in convictions over the last decade. In addition, the judiciary’s decisions with respect to provisional measures, in particular on whether to maintain or revoke search and seizure orders, have not been predictable." It suggested that the Philippine government establish a branch in the justice system that would hear cases on IPR violations. It also called for clear rules and procedures in prosecuting violators. “The United States encourages the Philippines to continue efforts to reform its judicial system, including by designating particular courts to adjudicate civil and criminal IPR cases, and by promulgating specialized IPR procedural rules that would streamline the judicial process for IPR cases," it said. Countries on the USTR watchlists The USTR has listed 42 trading partners that are in the watchlists. They are as follows:
- Priority Watch List: Algeria, Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, India, Israel, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela.
- Watch List: Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.
- Section 306 Monitoring: Paraguay.