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U.S. unveils strategy against cybertheft of trade secrets

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk speaks at a news conference during the 23rd session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in Washington in this file photo taken December 19, 2012. The White House will tackle the theft of U.S. trade secrets on Wednesday with a new strategy to protect American companies from losing hundreds of billions of dollars in an area of growing concern in relations with China.

JOSHUA DRAKE/REUTERS

The White House said on Wednesday it will step up diplomatic pressure and study whether tougher laws are needed to stop a wave of trade-secret theft from China and other countries in a strategy that offered few new ideas for dealing with the threat.

"Trade-secret theft threatens American businesses, undermines national security and places the security of the U.S. economy in jeopardy," the White House said in a report that laid out its strategy.

"Emerging trends indicate that the pace of economic espionage and trade-secret theft against U.S. corporations is accelerating," the White House warned in the report, which listed threats to corporate intellectual property from cyberattacks and more conventional methods of economic espionage.

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The report did not specifically name any country as the main culprit. But it listed more than a dozen cases of trade-secret theft by Chinese companies or individuals, far more than any other country mentioned in the report.

Last week, U.S. Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives' intelligence committee, said American companies suffered estimated losses in 2012 of more than $300-billion due to trade-secret theft, much of it due to Chinese cyber-espionage.

U.S. corporate victims of Chinese theft included General Motors, Ford, DuPont, Dow Chemical and Cargill.

"For an economy like ours, that's going to win based on our innovation of what we produce and create, this is a critically important issue," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.

The Obama administration released the strategy one day after a U.S. computer security company said it believed a secretive Chinese military unit was behind a series of hacking attacks.

China flatly denied the accusations made by the company, Mandiant, calling them "unprofessional." Its Defence Ministry said hacking attacks are a global problem and that China is one of the biggest victims.

Mr. Kirk said the problem of trade-secret theft in China was a factor in the decisions by some U.S. companies to move operations back to the United States.

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The companies have "had very frank conversations with the Chinese, [saying] 'You know it's one thing to accept a certain level of copyright knockoffs, but if you're going to take our core technology, then we're better off being in our home country,' " Mr. Kirk said.

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