EU to ring-fence audiovisual sector in US free trade talks: report

11th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

The EU will ensure that state support for its audiovisual sector, including new digital technologies, will be preserved in talks on the world's biggest free trade accord with the United States, a key demand by France, reports said Monday.

The Financial Times cited a document prepared by Ireland, the current EU presidency, which said that the talks with Washington should have no impact on Europe's prized 'cultural exception.'

In "view of the sensitivity of the audiovisual sector for the EU (...) the mechanisms existing at the level of either the European Union or the member states for the promotion of European cultural works shall not be affected," the document said.

At the same time, "all forms of subsidies to the audiovisual sector shall be excluded from any commitments."

The EU and member states would also have the "ability to adapt legislation to the digital environment," a reference to new technologies for content delivery such as online films, it added.

EU trade ministers are expected to discuss the Irish document Friday when they seek to nail down a full negotiating mandate for EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht before the June 17-18 G8 summit in Britain.

The United States has repeated on several occasions that it expects all areas of trade to be included in the negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the EU.

Britain has taken a similar stance but in marked contrast France has insisted that the audiovisual sector be excluded so as to defend Europe's distinctive cultural identity which it sees at risk from an invasion of US TV soap operas and Hollywood's dominance of the film industry.

The wording of the draft Irish document would suggest the presidency is trying to satisfy both sides by including the audiovisual sector but also ensuring that it is effectively ring-fenced in the negotiations.

Late last month, EU lawmakers -- who will have to approve a final accord with Washington -- gave the greenlight for the talks to go ahead but also strongly backed the French position.

Monday, De Gucht's spokesman, John Clancy, stressed that "the cultural issue is not up for discussion in the framework of these discussions."

"The system of quotas and subsidies within the EU will remain," Clancy said.

© 2013 AFP

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