CD Crackdown Due as Cambodia Eyes WTO

The Council of Ministers approved an amended draft law on copyright protection Friday, paving the way for the National Assembly to consider its second law dealing with intellectual property rights.

A copyright law, which would make it illegal to copy and sell VCDs, CDs and other commercial and artistic products without permission from its creator, is one of more than 40 laws that must be passed by Parliament before Cambodia can enter the World Trade Organization.

Ministers first passed a copyright law in October. The new version of the law complies with WTO standards and the trade and intellectual property agreement signed with the US in 1996, Ministry of Commerce Secretary of State Khek Ravy said Friday.

A law governing the registration and protection of trademarks was passed unanimously by the National Assembly in December. The copyright law could be considered by the assembly’s Public Works and Transport, Post and Telecommunications, Industry and Commerce commission in a few weeks, Khek Ravy said.

Government officials still hope to gain WTO membership within the year. But that may not happen until mid-2003, when the WTO is scheduled to meet in Mexico, Khek Ravy said.

At the last WTO ministerial meeting, held in November in Doha, Qatar, member countries agreed to provide technical assistance to developing countries like Cambodia who are working toward WTO membership.

Speaking in Mexico on Friday at the UN’s International Con­ference on Financing for Devel­op­­ment, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh asked for aid to help poor countries improve their trading abilities.

“Because of their lack of skills and knowledge of the world’s markets, [least developed countries] have not been able to build up their supply capacity, nor are they able to meet international standards,” a UN statement quo­ted Cham Prasidh as saying.

“Mainstreaming trade into development policies has been neglected in the past. But nowadays, people are starting to acknowledge that trade is a tool for development, an engine for growth,” the release stated.

Cambodia first told the WTO it wanted to join in 1994 and submitted an application to the Geneva-based organization in mid-1999. In June, government authorities are scheduled to meet with officials from WTO member nations who are reviewing Cambo­dia’s membership bid, Khek Ravy said.

WTO accession could help the country’s economy through the lower tariffs and regulations enjoyed by members, government officials argue. Each member is granted equal trade status and a reduction of trade barriers. Without membership, Cam­bodia faces economic marginalization, Cham Prasidh has said.

But few of Cambodia’s current laws meet WTO standards and the government must prove its commitment to reforming customs duties and trade regulations, economic observers have said. Cambodia must also show that its laws will be enforced.

One test of whether authorities here can protect intellectual property rights will come next week when a crackdown on vendors who sell illegally-copied videos is due to take place.

Ministry of Culture officials warned of the crackdown in January. A similar crackdown in February 2001 was delayed after vendors protested.


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