The pledge came on the day the Senate postponed consideration of one of the controversial anti-piracy bills that caused Wikipedia to block users from accessing its site last week.
"There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders," Obama told a joint session of Congress. He announced the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit to target counterfeiting and other unfair trade practices.
Singling out China, Obama said: "It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated."
An eight-page White House report summarising Obama's 2012 initiatives devotes only one line to anti-piracy: "The President called for enhancing trade inspections to stop counterfeit, pirated, or unsafe goods before they enter the United States."
"By highlighting the scourge of software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft, the President put his finger on a problem that is costing America as much as $100 billion a year in lost sales and exports to China alone, at the expense of more than 2 million jobs," said Business Software Alliance (BSA) president and CEO Robert Holleyman.
Obama's announcement came on the day the Senate had been scheduled to begin debate on the Protect IP Act (PIPA) sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont. That bill was opposed by BSA, and unlike Obama's initiative targets online trafficking.
PIPA and its counterpart in the House of Representatives, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), have sections dedicated to targeting dangerous counterfeit goods, such as substandard military parts and pharmaceuticals. The Obama Administration Wednesday addressed that issue with an announcement of a National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.
A White House fact sheet said the Departments of State and Homeland Security would coordinate with state and local governments to "secure movement of goods across and within our borders to provide food, medicine, energy, and an abundance of other products that feed our domestic critical infrastructure sectors, drive our economies, and support our ways of life".
Leahy highlighted safety concerns in a Senate floor speech a few hours before Obama's address. "Counterfeit medication, brake linings and other products threaten Americans’ safety," he said, claiming prominent web sites selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals averaged 141,000 visits daily.
Vowing to press forward with PIPA, Leahy said he understood why Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada pulled the bill from the Senate floor after Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republican senators voiced concerns. He noted he had accepted changes recommended by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who had put a hold on the bill, and had promised to remove language targeting domain names that had spurred many web sites last week to go dark in protest.
Wyden remains opposed to PIPA, however. In his own floor speech, he said of the web protest that "the American people stopped this legislation". The 15 million Americans who signed online petitions "are now going to be watching us like never before", he said.
"I harbour no doubt that this Congress on a bipartisan basis can and should construct legislation to combat international commerce in counterfeit merchandise and content that infringes on copyrights," Wyden said, promoting his own bill, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act. OPEN would direct complaints against websites and third parties not to federal court but to the International Trade Commission.
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