[A2k] FT: French fears eased on Hollywood content (12 March 2013)

Thirukumaran Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Mar 26 23:57:44 PDT 2013


March 12, 2013 7:57 pm
French fears eased on Hollywood content

By Joshua Chaffin in Brussels and James Boxell in Paris and James Politi in Washington

Europe’s trade chief has reassured a nervous French cultural establishment that it would not have to throw open its gates to Hollywood fare as part of an EU-US free trade agreement.

Karel De Gucht, the trade commissioner, promised that a transatlantic deal would not require changes to a European system of content quotas or subsidies that the French, in particular, have used to limit the influence of foreign media.

“The agreement will not force a change of current practices in the member states,” Mr De Gucht said. “Member states will continue to be able to support their cultural industries and the audio visual sector, in particular, such as through broadcasting quotas or subsidies.”

France introduced the concept of the “cultural exception” during world trade talks in the 1990s as way to preserve a nation’s identity and values.

It requires Canal Plus, the pay-TV channel owned by Vivendi, to allocate 9 per cent of its sales to French film and audio-visual production. Meanwhile, television channels must also ensure 60 per cent of their output is European, including 40 per cent French, while the country’s radio stations must compose 40 per cent of their playlists from domestic music.

The scheme was contested by the Motion Picture Association of America and its influential leader, Jack Valenti, during the 1986-94 Uruguay round of the GATT negotiations. Mr Valenti tried to force audio-visual and cinema into that agreement, but French politicians waged a national campaign and prevailed.

Concern about the cultural exception is one reason why Paris has so far remained relatively subdued about a new trans-Atlantic initiative that Berlin and London have championed at the highest levels.

Mr De Gucht’s reassurance was meant to bring the French aboard. It came as the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, presented a draft mandate for the negotiations, which must be approved by the bloc’s 27 member states before it can begin formal negotiations.

Brussels and Washington are hoping to clinch a final deal within two years – an ambitious timeline that coincides with the end of the current commission and mid-term US elections. At the outset, both sides have been keen to keep up the political momentum, arguing that at deal would boost economic growth and preserve their clout to set standards in a global economy increasingly dominated by the likes of China, Brazil and India.

But, in addition to the cultural exception, negotiators will also have to grapple with a slew of thorny, trans-Atlantic issues as they try to harmonise regulatory standards for food safety, government procurement and chemicals legislation, to name a few.

The commission also presented a study on Tuesday from the Centre for Economic Policy Research, a London think-tank, touting the benefits of an agreement. It found that an ambitious and comprehensive agreement could yield €119bn in additional economic value to the EU each year and €95bn to the US.

The study also found that the agreement would increase trade for both parties with the rest of the world by more than €33bn. In terms of industrial sectors, the study found that automotive would be among the biggest beneficiaries.

Kenneth Clarke, a UK cabinet minister, welcomed the study, saying: “Closing this deal quickly is in all of our interests and would deliver a much needed economic shot in the arm worth tens of billions of pounds to all of our economies.”

At a meeting with his export council on Tuesday, Barack Obama suggested the prospects for an EU-US trade deal reaching the finish line remained uncertain.

“We’ve narrowed down the issues. I think it will still be a heavy slog,” Mr Obama said. “There’s no guarantee that in the end some of the countries that have been hard cases in the past won’t block it again, but I think that you’re going to see more pressure from more countries on the other side of the Atlantic to get this done than we’ve seen in the past.”

The US president has yet to name a replacement for Ron Kirk, the outgoing US trade representative.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)

thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

More information about the A2k mailing list