WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration said today that it planned to put higher tariffs on $260 million worth of trade with Argentina in a dispute over protection of U.S. drug patents.
The decision was announced by Acting U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. The sanctions would go into effect on March 1 following a public comment period.
That will give both countries time to negotiate a settlement to the dispute that involves complaints by U.S. pharmaceutical companies that their products were not being protected by Argentina's current copyright laws.
The U.S. government has complained in particular about a five-year transition period included in Argentina's patent law which allows national pharmaceutical companies to continue copying medications produced elsewhere without paying licensing fees.
The trade sanctions would come under a program known as the Generalized System of Preferences that allows developing countries to ship products to the United States duty-free as a way of promoting economic development through trade.
Barshefsky said unless the current dispute is resolved satisfactorily, the administration will withdraw 50 percent of Argentina's duty-free GSP privileges. That would affect $260 million of the $520 million in products Argentina shipped to the United States last year under the GSP program.
The administration was issuing a list of proposed target products and asking for public comment. From those comments, it will draw up a final list of Argentina's goods which would lose GSP preferences.
Barshefsky said that Argentina had made some progress in meeting U.S. demands for better copyright protection but had not gone far enough.
She said that a new patent law and proposed legislation to protect test registration data fail to meet global standards for the protection of intellectual property rights.
"The result is that U.S. pharmaceutical firms will continue to see the fruits of their research and development freely copied by Argentina's pharmaceutical industry," she said in a statement. "In addition, Argentine pharmaceutical interests continue to work aggressively to frustrate our efforts to achieve improved intellectual property protection in other countries."