By Klaus Marre | THE HILL
In a rare intervention in the American legislative process, the Cuban government is lobbying against legislation pending before Congress, saying lawmakers must act to repeal controversial trademark legislation and expressing its opposition to the so-called Bacardi bill, according to a document provided to The Hill.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has held that Section 211 of the 1999 omnibus appropriations legislation violates international trademark rights. Congress is contemplating legislative fixes that would bring the United States in compliance with the ruling.
But one legislative proposal only benefits Bahamas-based rum maker Bacardi, according to lawmakers and U.S.-based companies that oppose this approach.
They say passing the Bacardi bill (S. 2373), which the Senate Judiciary Committee hopes to take up this week, would only amend Section 211 and open the door for Cuba to retaliate legally against U.S. trademarks in Cuba, which could cost American companies millions.
Many U.S. companies favor S. 2002, introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), which would repeal Section 211.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee members, Dagoberto Rodriguez Barrera, chief of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C., said Cuba opposes S. 2373. Barrera said his country’s courts have protected the thousands of U.S. trademarks currently registered in Cuba, adding that Cuba has “waited with considerable patience on effective U.S. action to cure Section 211’s violations” of the Inter-American Convention and the TRIPS agreement.
Many U.S. companies fear that Cuban leader Fidel Castro would initiate legal retaliation against their trademarks. National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) President Bill Reinsch said he believes Cuba is “waiting to see what Congress does” but would retaliate if Section 211 were not appealed outright.
When the Judiciary Committee marks up S. 2373, Craig or an ally will introduce a substitute that would repeal Section 211, according to a source close to the issue.
A Senate source said there appears to be more support for a straight-up repeal than for either S. 2373 or S. 2002.
A Craig aide said, “Opponents of repealing Section 211 want everybody to believe it has something to do with Castro. It doesn’t. It has everything to do with protecting U.S. companies.”
“Find me 10 U.S. companies out of 5,000 U.S.-registered trademarks in Cuba that support keeping Section 211 in place and we’ll talk,” the aide said, adding, “Simply put, this law is crazy, and one has to wonder why it was snuck in 40 years post-embargo.”
Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), author of the bipartisan S. 2373, said his bill would protect the owners of trademarks Cuba has confiscated and not favor a particular company.
Reinsch said anybody who expects Cuba not to retaliate if S. 2373 were signed into law is “being awfully cavalier with other people’s money.”
Cuba’s minister of foreign affairs said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly last year: “The United States must prevent the Bacardi company from stealing the Havana Club rum brand name. Its government should not be interested ó and I want to state this clearly here ó in a conflict of trademarks and patents with Cuba.”
Earlier this year, Cuba issued a statement attacking the United States’ “total indifference and lack of willingness” to address the issue.
The International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), a group consisting of about 140 members that represent total revenues of more than $650 billion, appealed to Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.) not to pass the Bacardi bill, instead lobbying for an all-out repeal of Section 211.
IACC President Timothy Trainer argued that without such a repeal, Cuba could withdraw legally “protections of the Inter-American Convention from the U.S.-owned trademarks registered in Cuba.”
That, Trainer added, “would create an environment conducive to trademark counterfeiting and, at the very least, subject American companies to time-consuming and expensive litigation to regain their marks when Congress decides to restore normal commercial relations with Cuba.”
Bacardi could not be reached for comment. The Cuban Interest Section did not return calls seeking comment.