In addition to revoking $1.3 billion in trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences for Thailand last week, the Trump administration also announced a number of other enforcement actions arising out the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s annual review of the Generalized System of Preferences program.
The USTR’s annual GSP review is the culmination of several ongoing processes including program eligibility reviews, regular assessments of beneficiary developing countries, combined with input from stakeholders via public comment opportunities and petitions.
In May 2018, 155 items of Ukrainian origin were excluded from the GSP due to inadequate efforts by that country to protect intellectual property rights. Despite expressing “continued significant concerns” about the issue, following the passage of legislation last year by Ukraine to improve its protection and enforcement of IPR, the administration has decided to partially restore trade preferences for approximately one-third ($12 million estimated trade value) of the $36 million (estimated trade value) GSP benefits originally removed.
Bolivia, Iraq, Uzebekistan & Azerbaijan
USTR says that it is closing GSP reviews concerning Bolivia, Iraq & Uzbekistan after having satisfactorily resolved a number of specific issues with these countries.
In the case of Bolivia, the decision follows passage of legislation raising the minimum age of work to 14, in line with international standards. The new law overturned a controversial labour code adopted in 2014 that included a provision allowing children as young as 10 or 12 into the workforce. The Iraq decision likewise follows the implementation of new labour reforms in connection with legislation that greatly expanded worker rights and protections.
The decision to close the Uzbekistan GSP review was made in light of its accession earlier this year to the Geneva Phonograms Convention, the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.
A GSP worker rights eligibility review of Uzbekistan will, however, remain open, USTR notes. It also announced that, as part of a new three-year process, the USTR will be initiating a GSP eligibility review for Azerbaijan over concerns about its compliance with the internationally recognized labour standards called for by the program.
USTR has indicated that it plans to launch a review into South Africa’s compliance with the GSP program’s intellectual property criterion, in the area of copyright protection and enforcement. The action is being taken in response to a petition filed by the International Intellectual Property Alliance that alleges South Africa isn’t doing enough to provide “adequate and effective protection” of copyrighted U.S. movies and texbooks.
In its complaint, the IIPA, an umbrella lobby group which represents five influential entertainment and publishing trade associations, outlined concerns with South Africa’s current copyright enforcement regime and called proposed amendments to the country’s copyright law “a giant step backward.”
The domestically controversial changes would expand the definition of “fair use” in ways that the IIPA asserts "will, in particular, imperil the legitimate markets for educational texts, locally distributed works, and online works in general."
At stake should a review end in GSP benefits being revoked are South Africa’s exports to the U.S. worth some $2.5 billion, including those covered by African Growth and Opportunity Act, which is predicated on participating countries being eligible under GSP rules.
Dates for the review process, including a public hearing and comment period, have not yet been set, but will be announced in an upcoming Federal Register notice.
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