EU lawmakers back US trade talks, but with 'cultural' exceptions
EU lawmakers voted Thursday for cultural and audiovisual services to be excluded from upcoming talks on what would be the world's largest free trade deal with the United States, which insists there should be no exceptions.
"MEPs strongly favour starting the talks but also state their expectations, for example, as regards opening up access to the US (public) procurement market and safeguarding the EU's cultural and audiovisual services market," a European Parliament statement said.
Lawmakers voted 460 in favour and 105 against with 28 abstentions on the non-binding resolution that Brussels should start talks on the Free Trade Agreement, backing conditions sought by 14 EU culture ministers including France and Germany.
Protection for French cinema and television, an industry considered fundamental to the promotion of the French language and its cultural values, has long been cited as a no-go area by Paris.
The Parliament said MEPs expect an eventual deal to open up access for EU firms to US public procurement markets, remove current restrictions on EU suppliers of maritime and air transport services, foreign ownership of airlines and financial service providers.
At the same time, an accord should protect European values.
These include "precautionary principles" covering genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), cloning, intellectual property rights, the EU's geographical indication of origin system.
In a separate vote, by 381 for to 191 against, they recommended excluding from the negotiating mandate "cultural and audiovisual services, including online ones".
This is "to protect the cultural and linguistic diversity of EU countries," it said, adding that the vote was meant to show the assembly "has teeth and can bite".
Britain, despite reservations about such exclusions, welcomed the outcome of the vote, focussing on the fact that it endorsed the opening of the talks.
"This is a once in a generation opportunity and that is why we are working hard to secure a launch of negotiations in time for the G8 summit" next month in England, a British government spokesman said.
Separately, British sources said London favoured putting everything on the table at the start of the talks so as not "to give the other side the option" of also announcing exclusions.
The cultural exception was clearly important to France and other EU members, one British source said, adding that London was "confident of finding a way ... through this."
EU leaders and the European Commission will now take account of Parliament's decision as they prepare for the FTA talks with Washington.
MEPs will have a vote on the final deal reached.
© 2013 AFP