EU-US trade talks under French risk

EU-US trade talks under French risk

EU-US trade talks under French risk

This file photo shows French actress Berenice Bejo (C) attending a conference on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership on June 11.

France threatened to block the start of free trade talks between the European Union and the United States if movies and digital media are not kept out of the negotiations.

Two days before EU countries are supposed to give the go-ahead for negotiations, France said on June 12 it would veto the talks unless the sector - that it sees as crucial to its cultural identity and under threat from Hollywood - is excluded.

“France defends and will defend the cultural exception to the end - that’s a red line,” Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti told Reuters TV, referring to current EU rules that allow governments to preserve “cultural diversity” by setting subsidies and quotas that might otherwise be considered contrary to free trade.

The first round of talks - which would seek to establish free trade for all manner of goods - has been tentatively scheduled for July, but both sides must first agree the scope of the negotiations, something EU trade ministers are due to finalise on Friday.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament: “France will go as far as using its political veto. This is about our identity, it’s our struggle.”

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership could increase Europe’s economic output by 65 billion euros ($86.3 billion) a year, according to the European Commission, with the United States getting a similar boost.

Hollywood threat

But for the talks to start, EU trade ministers must reach a unanimous agreement in their discussions on Friday. France’s stance would appear to make that impossible at this stage.

Paris says it will not be pushed into signing up until it is satisfied that its system of support for film, radio and other audio-visual products remains shielded from Hollywood. It also wants to make sure any future technologies in the cultural sphere, such as visual arts downloads, are protected.