The US and European Union are today launching a crackdown on the trade in counterfeit products such as luxury goods, medicines and electronic appliances from China and Russia.

The joint accord between the two countries is the first enforcement programme of its kind and will be endorsed at today's EU-US Summit in Vienna.

It was signed yesterday (20 June) by US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, European Commission vice president and commissioner for industry Günter Verheugen and EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

Among its proposals are commitments for closer customs co-operation and joint border enforcement; joint enforcement in third countries; and increased collaboration with the private sector.

"Stepping up the enforcement fight required a joint strategy and it needed to have some teeth," Mandelson said.

"The issue of intellectual property protection goes to the heart of the ability of the EU and the US to compete in the global economy because our high-value goods have strong intellectual content."

According to the European Commission, the number of counterfeit items seized at EU borders has increased by more than 1000% between 1998 and 2004, rising from 10m in 1998 to over 103m in 2004.

China is often the first to be criticised for its failure to protect intellectual property rights, and will be the focus of initial anti-counterfeiting efforts. But the EU and US say they also have major concerns in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

The protection of intellectual property rights is not just an issue for developed countries, and the programme aims to help emerging markets reinforce their own efforts to tackle intellectual property theft.

Günter Verheugen pointed out that industries in the EU and US won't be able to win the global race with rock-bottom prices and low quality.

"The only way forward is innovation, invention and quality," he explained. "When ideas or brands and products are pirated, ripped-off and counterfeited, this strategy is doomed."