France faced calls from its European Union partners to lift threats to block the start of free-trade talks with the U.S. unless audiovisual works are fully excluded.
EU trade ministers meeting today in Luxembourg will decide whether to give the European Commission, the bloc’s regulatory arm, a mandate for negotiations with the U.S. to expand the world’s biggest economic relationship. The goal is to remove tariffs, ease regulatory barriers and expand access in investment, services and public procurement.
The French government has demanded a blanket exclusion of audiovisual policies from the scope of any negotiating remit, citing the principle that culture can’t be treated as a normal commercial good. Other EU governments and the Brussels-based commission say that stance is too hard-line and instead vow to protect current European policies that promote cultural works while allowing for the possibility of some concessions to the U.S. in this area.
“It will require flexibility on all sides to reach agreement,” Trade Minister Richard Bruton of Ireland, current holder of the 27-nation EU’s rotating presidency, told reporters as the Luxembourg meeting participants headed to lunch after an initial round of deliberations. “I remain ambitious and we are not going to leave any opportunity behind us. We are going to work on every possible lead.”
With the EU in a recession (EUGNEMUQ:US), the U.S. in a slow recovery and the World Trade Organization in deadlock over efforts to open markets, European and American policymakers are seeking commercial deals with individual countries or groups of nations to spur growth. Trade will feature at a June 17-18 meeting of Group of Eight leaders in the U.K.
An accord between the EU and the U.S. would outrank all others because both sides already have goods and services trade valued at $2 billion a day. A deal, which might take two years or longer to reach, could bring annual economic benefits of 119 billion euros ($159 billion) to Europe and 95 billion euros to the U.S., according to the commission in Brussels.
“There’s enough goodwill on both sides to realize this is the moment to push ahead,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said in an interview yesterday in London.
French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq stuck to Paris’s uncompromising line in the meeting’s morning session.
France “will refuse any mandate that doesn’t include protection of cultural services and the clear and explicit exclusion of the audiovisual sector,” Bricq said in a statement of her remarks to fellow EU ministers that was handed out by French officials. “You know the extreme sensitivity of European creators.”
A European film-industry delegation showed up at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, three days ago to say the “cultural exception” isn’t negotiable. Greek-French movie director Costa Gavras warned of an American “cultural invasion” should talks with the U.S. cover the audiovisual industry.
That stance is too rigid for the commission and for most EU countries including the U.K., Germany and Finland, which want to seek the broadest possible accord with Washington.
“It’s very difficult to envisage a solution which would have a total carve out” of audiovisual policies, Finnish Trade Minister Alexander Stubb told reporters today in Luxembourg. “There’s absolutely nothing that threatens the French or the European film industry. And I shall certainly continue to watch all of my beloved French movies even after this free-trade negotiation has been finalized.”
Stubb put the chances of an EU ministerial accord today at “50-50.”
“I hope that we find a solution which is acceptable for the French,” he said.
Anne Ruth Herkes, a German Economics Ministry state secretary with responsibility for trade, pressed France to show flexibility. She said other EU nations and the commission were taking a “reasonable” approach.
“We are all for cultural diversity,” Herkes said. “France has to move a bit. It’s that way for all of us occasionally. Today France has to do it (EUGNEMUQ:US).”
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