The European Union said Tuesday that it has asked to participate in World Trade Organization talks over Chinese copyright and trademark policy initiated last month by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.
Mexico also is requesting to join the dispute as a so-called "third party," the WTO said. The procedural step, which already had been taken by Japan and Canada, signifies growing international pressure on Beijing to crack down on product piracy.
"This is a case of great importance," said Peter Power, spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. "We have asked to be third parties. We are very interested in this case. We will watch developments in these consultations with great interest."
The EU is China's largest trading partner.
The United States filed two new cases against China at the WTO on April 10, challenging Beijing's rules for copyright and trademark protection, and its alleged failure to remove import and distribution restrictions on copyrighted U.S. goods including newspapers, magazines and video games.
The complaint over intellectual property enforcement was the culmination of years of agitation in Washington and elsewhere over one of the world's biggest sources of illegally copied goods ranging from DVDs, CDs and designer clothes to sporting goods and medications.
Under WTO rules, a 60-day consultation phase is initiated for any new case. Any of the WTO's 150 members can seek China's permission to join the consultations. While Beijing can reject the move, it would be powerless to prevent a country from initiating its own separate complaint at the Geneva-based trade referee.
Power told The Associated Press by telephone from Brussels, Belgium, that it was still too early to speculate on whether the 27-nation bloc would start its own complaint over China's rules for intellectual property rights should the consultations fail.
The EU and Mexico filed their requests to join the talks at the WTO last week, trade officials said.
Beijing, which says it is stepping up its fight against product piracy, has heavily criticized Washington for starting the intellectual property case, saying it could damage trade relations between the countries. Last week, a Chinese court ordered a Beijing company to pay 195,000 yuan (US$25,000) in damages to six U.S. movie studios for selling pirated DVDs, the latest in a string of lawsuits over Chinese film piracy.