(Corrects title of U.S. ambassador to EU not to Brussels)
* France wants to leave audiovisual sector out of talks
* EU partners fear could lead US to exclude other sectors
* EU governments to try to agree common position on Friday
By Mark John and Philip Blenkinsop
PARIS/BRUSSELS, June 12 France threatened on
Wednesday 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 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.
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.
"TOO BIG TO FAIL"
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.
While other EU countries want to protect against too much
U.S. content and preserve subsidies, they are happy with a
compromise put forward by EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.
That would allow EU members to retain subsidies and quotas
for traditional media, but leave space for U.S. and European
companies to compete in the rapidly developing Internet and
digital areas, including TV on demand and music downloads.
Britain, Germany and others argue that if the EU excludes
the audio-visual sector completely, as France demands, the
United States will exclude its own closed sectors.
French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq said the U.S. would, in
any case, seek to exclude certain sectors such as maritime
transport and financial services. She told newspaper Liberation
that culture risked becoming a negotiating pawn in the talks if
it was not excluded from the start.
"It's very sensitive for the French," Irish Trade Minister
Richard Bruton, who will chair Friday's EU talks, told Reuters.
"If you start taking sectors off the table, complete
carve-outs, so will the other side."
Following 14 months of preparations, Brussels and Washington
say the time is right for a deal first mooted three decades ago
but considered too difficult because of the concerns over the
impact of opening markets, especially the farming sector.
German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said the free trade
deal was "too big to fail".
"We should avoid building up taboos at the moment," he said
at a conference hosted by the American Institute for
Contemporary German Studies in Berlin.
William Kennard, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union,
has warned against setting red lines before talks begin, telling
the European Parliament that the moment to start talks was now.
"The alignment of stars won't last forever. We need to seize
the opportunity," he said last week.
(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, Pauline
Mevel and Leigh Thomas in Paris and Michelle Martin in Berlin;
Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)