Amazon cries foul as trade office names ‘notorious markets’

Company says annual list is politically motivated

Amazon first appeared on the USTR list in 2019. (Edward Smith/Getty Images)
Amazon first appeared on the USTR list in 2019. (Edward Smith/Getty Images)
Posted January 14, 2021 at 5:29pm

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s 2020 list of “notorious markets” for counterfeit goods once again includes several of Amazon.com Inc.’s foreign domains, prompting accusations from the company of political retribution.

Amazon said the listing released Thursday is politically motivated, apparently alluding to battles between President Donald Trump and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos over coverage of Trump by The Washington Post, which Bezos also owns.

“Amazon has and always will be a trusted place to shop for authentic products. Including Amazon in this report is the continuation of a personal vendetta against Amazon, and nothing more than a desperate stunt in the final days of this administration. Amazon does more to fight counterfeiting than any other private entity we are aware of,” the company said in a release.   

But the report says U.S. companies losing sales submitted complaints about Amazon sites in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom along with criticism of other e-commerce sites for inadequate vetting of sellers and policing of violations.

Amazon online marketplaces were first included in the 2019 report. That year, domains in Canada, France, Germany, India and the United Kingdom were cited.

The 2020 annual report is the last notorious market list from the Trump administration. Although the report carries no legal force, the U.S. uses it to prod countries and companies to step up enforcement of online and physical markets. Forty online sites or companies and markets in 17 countries, from Argentina to Vietnam, are named.

“The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) highlights certain online and physical markets because they exemplify global counterfeiting and piracy concerns and because the scale of infringing activity in these markets can cause significant harm to U.S. intellectual property (IP) owners, consumers, and the economy,” the report states.

E-commerce platforms, the agency said, are particularly problematic since determining even their location may be difficult and intercepting the counterfeited goods is complicated because they can directly ship goods worth $800 or less to individual buyers. They are able to evade thorough reviews that customs agents can give bulk containers that may include counterfeit goods.

The report notes that some sites named in the past as offenders are off the 2020 list “because the market has closed or its popularity or significance has diminished; enforcement or voluntary action has significantly reduced the prevalence of IP-infringing goods or services; market owners or operators are cooperating with right holders or government authorities to address infringement; or the market is no longer a noteworthy example of its kind.”

Alibaba Group’s Taobao.com remains on the list, as do several on-the-ground markets in China amid uneven efforts by officials to crack down on counterfeit products, the report said. The USTR credits greater intellectual property protection for faster takedowns of questionable online sites and improved action against online sites and more policing of physical markets.

However, the agency notes that companies continue to identify China as a primary source of counterfeit goods. The physical markets identified as hubs for distribution of pirated goods remain active in some of China’s larger cities.