EU offers to give France bigger say in U.S. trade talks
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission is ready to give EU governments a much greater say in negotiations on film, TV, radio and Internet markets in a free-trade deal with the United States, an EU source said on Thursday.
France has opposed allowing access to these markets to be included in the proposed free-trade talks, concerned that French-language films, TV shows and music would be threatened by the power of Hollywood.
The Commission - the EU executive which negotiates trade deals on behalf of member states - is seeking a compromise so negotiations can start in July, and has already promised to leave countries' cultural subsidies out of the talks.
The source said EU trade chief Karel De Gucht would propose to European trade ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday that they would be consulted before the Commission entered any talks with Washington on access to film, TV, radio and Internet markets.
The Commission would also have to secure member governments' approval of its negotiating positions on these issues, under the proposal.
"The Commission and the Irish presidency will make the offer tomorrow," said the source close to the talks, referring to the six-month EU rotating presidency, currently held by Dublin. "They really want to go the extra mile to reassure countries that cultural policies will not be jeopardized."
If the offer is accepted, it would be the first time the Commission involved EU governments so closely in negotiations, although the proposal is only on cultural issues and not on the many other complex matters that the trade talks will tackle.
A trade deal, called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), could boost the EU economy by 119 billion euros ($159 billion) per year, and the U.S. economy by 95 billion euros, according to an EU-commissioned study.
France has so far refused to join the other 26 EU governments that are ready to give the go-ahead for negotiations, unless movies and digital media are left out. It threatened this week to use a veto.
EU trade ministers must resolve the issue at their meeting in Luxembourg. They need France on board not just because it is Europe's second largest economy, but because under EU rules, trade deals touching on cultural issues need unanimous support.
An official at French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq's office in Paris showed little enthusiasm for the proposal, although the official had not been briefed on the details.
"Our position is clear. There will not be any negotiation over culture. We want culture to be purely and simply excluded from the talks," said the official, who declined to be named.
The United States already sells far more music, movies, radio and television programs to the European Union than it buys from the bloc. Its net surplus for the sector averaged 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion) a year from 2004 to 2011.
France fears this imbalance will only increase under a trade deal as digital and Internet services - already dominated by U.S. technology companies - become ever more popular.
(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas in Paris; Editing by Pravin Char)
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