AliExpress and WeChat end up on USTR blacklist

This year’s US government Notorious Markets List includes some well-known Chinese e commerce platforms for the first time. At the same time, however, several often-criticized marketplaces have been removed, including sites from Amazon as well as Mercado Libre.

In its new Notorious Markets List published in mid-February, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) names the two well‑known Chinese online platforms AliExpress and WeChat for the first time. This negative list of the US government identifies markets that insufficiently protect intellectual property and trademarks, based on the USTR’s assessment.

One of the most important changes this year, however, concerns sites that are no longer listed: The USTR’s decision to no longer include the European platforms of the US corporation Amazon on the watchlist has particularly attracted attention. The Amazon sites for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK had been newly included only last year; back then, Amazon had sharply criticized being mentioned on the Notorious Markets List and, according to media reports, spoke of the “continuation of a personal vendetta” against Amazon by the then-governing Trump administration.

Chinese e‑commerce giant Alibaba Group, in contrast, finds itself with two online marketplaces on the newly published Notorious Markets List: Next to the already listed Taobao marketplace, which positions itself in the consumer-2-consumer segment, the B2C platform AliExpress is now also listed for the first time. While AliExpress has made progress in terms of brand protection, brand owners reported an increase in counterfeiting as well as insufficient verification of merchants, says the USTR report. Alibaba reacted calmly to the news, commenting that it was aware of the challenges of IP protection and that it was working to further expand its measures.

Also newly listed was WeChat, a smartphone ecosystem of the Chinese Tencent group, which has over one billion active users. The app, which initially started as a chat app, also includes an online commerce functionality, among other features. The Notorious Markets List criticizes WeChat for enabling counterfeiting trade, for example by directing potential customers to knock-offs via livestreams. Brand owners also reported poor verification systems and ineffective reporting functions for having counterfeits removed, according to trade magazine WTR.

This year’s USTR Notorious Markets List features 42 online marketplaces and 35 physical markets. The online marketplaces also include, for example, DHGate, Shopee, and Pinduoduo, the second largest e-commerce platform in China. The report also highlights a new threat from so-called “piracy-as-a-service” providers, which make it easier for counterfeiters to set up, operate, and monetize their illegal business. The US industry association AAFA commended the USTR’s continued work, also criticizing it for failing to include some major players in the counterfeiting trade.

Sources: USTR, AAFA, World Trademark Review (WTR)

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