European trade officials are helping their Chinese counterparts tighten legal protection for producers of premium products whose labels have been hijacked by bootleggers. The three-day meeting in Beijing, which began yesterday, is aimed at helping officials from the General Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine draft new rules ahead of China's entry into the World Trade Organisation. China concedes illegal producers have copied the labels of high-status products such as champagne and cognac as part of an operation in which inferior wine and spirits are passed off to consumers. China has also fallen victim to counterfeiting of distinctive regional brands. Overseas producers have passed off copies of Longjing tea - considered one of China's best - Shaoqing yellow wine and maotai rice wine. Shaoqing is a region of Zhejiang province. Maotai originates from Guizhou province. In the case of premium-label French drinks, the Chinese copycat producers rely on uninformed consumers not being able to tell the difference. 'Most Chinese have no idea what cognac tastes like. They just drink it,' said Kong Xiaokang, deputy international co-operation director with the quality supervision administration. Chinese producers have suffered as companies in Taiwan and Japan take advantage of the mainland's vague patent laws by marketing their own Shaoqing and maotai wines. Director-general of the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne Andre Enders said consumers should know they were getting the real product when buying expensive champagne. In late 1995, France and China signed a conceptual agreement to protect the origins of famous food and drink products, later endorsed by the European Commission. When China joins the WTO, it also must uphold the organisation's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement or face sanctions. To protect itself and its trading partners, the Chinese Government has restructured its departments to give the quality supervision administration the authority to check factories making counterfeit food and drinks. The department also takes complaints from foreign companies. 'If you have a problem with counterfeiting, you come to our office,' Ms Kong said. Chinese place-specific products now carry authenticity labels and the administration is considering applications to offer international protection to 13 Chinese place-specific brand names, which include wines, tea and Xuanwei ham from Yunnan. 'Protection is now better than it was in the past and it will get better,' said Ambroise Auge, deputy international affairs director with the Bureau National Interprofessionel du Cognac. 'Protection has improved owing to our work.'