By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and China have joined forces in a combined operation to crack down on counterfeit goods, seizing more than 243,000 fake electronics products, including popular consumer items made by Apple, Samsung, Dr Dre and Blackberry.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the month-long operation was the biggest bilateral customs enforcement effort ever conducted by the United States. It focused on seizures of goods in ports as they were exported from China or imported into the United States.
While the operation resulted in only one arrest, U.S. officials said they see it as a sign that the Beijing government is finally acting on their complaints of Chinese theft of intellectual property.
The two countries agreed in recent high-level talks that they would work together to try to stem the large quantities of fake goods flowing between China and the United States.
"The theft of intellectual property is a global problem and cross-border efforts are needed to fight it," said Thomas Winkowski, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
"Robust enforcement of intellectual property rights allows innovators and creators - whether in a small start-up or an international corporation - to profit from their efforts and gives consumers confidence in the reputations of the products they buy."
China is the primary source of counterfeit and pirated goods in the United States and accounts for 72 percent of all seizures relating to intellectual property rights, according to the U.S. agency's fiscal 2012 statistics.
Theft of intellectual property rights costs U.S. businesses $320 billion a year, equivalent to the annual value of U.S. exports to Asia, according to a report by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, a group of former U.S. officials.
China's Vice Minister of the General Administration of China Customs, Zou Zhiwu, said both countries need to work together to effectively curb the movement of counterfeit products.
"IPR infringement is a global issue involving not only the process of production and export, but also that of import and circulation," he said. "Enforcement agencies around the world should work more closely to crack down (on) these illegal activities."
The operation took place at ports in the United States and China. The main U.S. ports involved were Anchorage, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Newark. In China the primary ports were Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Chinese and American customs officials did not work together physically, but acted on shared information and tips, officials said.
The single arrest was that of an American citizen who imported counterfeit Dr Dre headphones and sold them on Craigslist. He was arrested in the New Orleans area after Chinese customs passed on a tip to U.S. officials.
"The fight against criminal counterfeiters overseas presents a great deal of challenges to U.S. law enforcement," said Daniel Ragsdale, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "But it is a fight we are committed to and through the international partnerships we forge with foreign customs and law enforcement agencies, we are making an impact."
the largest previous bilateral operation conducted by the United States was with French Customs over a six-month period. In that operation, officials made 470 seizures of electronic components like semiconductors, memory cards and computer storage devices.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles; editing by Alistair Bell and Christopher Wilson)