By RAF CASERT, Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States sees no reason to keep the movie and television industry out of upcoming trans-Atlantic free-trade negotiations with the European Union, despite France insisting that sector should be excluded, a high-level U.S. official said Thursday.
U.S. Ambassador to the EU, William E. Kennard also said that his country has not tried to keep any sector out of the negotiations with the 27-nation EU, countering French claims that Washington would exclude financial services.
The talks are expected to kick off next month after President Barack Obama and EU leaders announced on Monday that they would seek a free trade deal between the world's two mightiest economic regions. Such a pact would create a market with common standards and regulations across countries that together account for nearly half the global economy.
For weeks, France has piled on pressure on the other EU nations to keep the cultural sector off limits and last week the EU agreed on a negotiating mandate that included France's demand — but with the proviso that it could possibly come back as an issue later in the negotiations.
"No one is saying that you cannot talk about audiovisual," Kennard told a small group of reporters on Thursday. "I don't think it is completely accurate to say it is a complete carve-out. It is more of a constraint," he said.
For years now, Paris has sought to protect its cultural industries from the cultural clout of Hollywood through subsidies and quotas. Since the EU is a patchwork of often tiny countries with their own languages and cultures, such protection has become a fully acceptable practice in the bloc.
That is why France insisted that the issue be kept out of the negotiations. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who will negotiate on behalf of the 27 countries based on a unanimous mandate, had always argued that the mandate should be as open as possible since there always would be enough guarantees to protect EU culture.
The United States also wants as level a playing field as possible.
"Frankly, we are happy that we are only talking about audiovisual as a constraint right now and not lots of other things that are politically sensitive on both sides," Kennard said.
He denied the U.S. was trying to keep the financial services out of the talks.
"That is not accurate because we already have a separate track dealing with the whole array of financial services issues," Kennard said. The issues are being dealt with through the G-20 group of the world's 20 leading industrial and developing countries and through dialogue between financial regulators, he added.
He said those talks should move in parallel with the trans-Atlantic free trade talks.
An EU-commissioned study shows that a trade pact could boost the 27-country bloc's economic output by 119 billion euro ($159 billion) a year and the U.S. economy's by 95 billion euros ($127 billion). Another estimate showed eliminating tariffs alone would add $180 billion to U.S. and EU gross domestic product in five years' time while boosting exports on both sides by about 17 percent. That could add about 0.5 percent annually to the EU's GDP and 1 percent to the U.S.
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