BEIJING, March 27 (Reuters) China admitted on Monday it had a rampant copyright piracy problem but said it could not be eliminated overnight, as U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez headed for Beijing to press the issue.
Intellectual property rights have become a major irritant in relations between the United States and China where pirated goods from high-fashion handbags to DVDs and software are hawked on street corners in cities across the country.
The Office of the U.S Trade Representative has said copyright and patent violations in China cost American firms up to $3.8 billion a year.
''We still have a serious problem of piracy. We need to study more forceful and effective measures to curb it,'' Yan Xiaohong, deputy chief of the National Copyright Administration, told a news conference.
Gutierrez is due to arrive in Beijing later on Monday after a brief visit to the southwestern city Chongqing. Gutierrez said last week he would press China for specific commitments, including one to crack down on piracy.
In a flurry of diplomacy ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's April 20 visit to the White House, Vice Premier Wu Yi will also meet Gutierrez and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman in the United States on April 11.
Yan said China had seized and destroyed 457 million pirated CD-ROMs and books between 2000 and 2005 and broken up 23 underground laser disc production lines since last year.
Asked why piracy was still rampant despite the touted crackdowns, Yan said it would be worse if those ''unparalleled efforts'' had not been made.
''For a developing nation like China, protecting intellectual property rights is a process ... We hope to shorten this process as much as possible, but it's difficult to eliminate it overnight,'' Yan said.
REUTERS SR VC1434