EU-US FTA & the Lameness of 'Cultural Exception'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/24/2013 04:21:00 PM
There is already a certain desperation to the idea that trade can significantly be boosted between the US and EU FTA when they already have exceptionally low tariff levels. What more substantial trade barriers can be removed? Are these dynamic and growing markets? The answers, of course, are "few" and "no." Despite there being a number of obstacles to even this smallest of possible achievements--especially agriculture--one of the more interesting ones concerns trade in "audiovisual industries."

Today, I came across two interesting articles on US entertainment. The first concerns American firm director Michael Bay "apologizing" for his movie Armageddon. Alike the vast majority of US-based productions, Bay's films have next to no artistic merit despite having commercial appeal. So it's schlock, but it's schlock that finds a ready audience of gullible folks worldwide of the lowest common denominator variety [explosions! special FX! naked people! cussing!] I myself prefer watching documentaries, but that's beside the point.

Another article deals with the latest resurrected and utterly ridiculous trade grievance of the Europeans. It may seem to you that I usually side with the Europeans in trade disputes with Americans, but that's not always the case--especially over the non-issues of GM food, hormone-fed cattle, and so on. Here we have another blatant form of European protectionism waiting in the wings over the supposed cultural erosion that will occur if American films are allowed unfettered access to European markets:
The cultural exception has its roots in 1993 when a furor erupted as Hollywood, notably led by late MPAA chief Jack Valenti, wanted to include the audiovisual industries in the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations. Europe, led by France, balked. Member states claimed that including the arts would threaten their quota and subsidy systems and put them in danger of total Hollywood hegemony. Hours from the deadline, a deal was struck and Europe got its way.

In their current petition, Euro filmmakers say 20 years ago, “the cultural exception burst onto the international scene, leading to the recognition of a specific status for audiovisual works as they are not just goods like any others and must therefore be excluded from trade negotiations.” The group calls the proposed negotiations mandate “a renunciation,” “a capitulation” and “a breaking-point” which would “reduce culture to nothing more than a commodity.” The group further argues that the trade negotiations appear “strikingly like a conscious desire to bring European culture to its knees.”
The most vociferous opponents of this so-called cultural invasion are (surprise!) the French:
But that wasn’t quite good enough for France’s external commerce minister Nicole Bricq and culture minister AurĂ©lie Filippetti, who said, “France has placed a sine qua non condition on its accord for trade negotiations with the United States: The full respsect of the cultural exception and in particular the pure and simple exclusion of audiovisual. The draft mandate must therefore be modified” to erase De Grucht’s “ambiguity.” They added, “France will not compromise. The exclusion of audiovisual services is not negotiable. A policy statement is not enough.”
This argument is quite frankly moronic in exactly the same way that French authorities acting as "guardians" of French language is: In a free market, no thought police are supposed to disapprove of your (exceedingly poor) taste in (lowbrow) American fare for as long as your (deplorable) viewing habits harm no one else. If people want to watch garbagey American films and don't hurt anyone in the process, then they ought to be free to do as they damn well please.

So here's a (backhanded) salute to Michael Bay and other directors of proto-garbage American entertainment from the IPE Zone. I certainly wouldn't want to watch their brand of Ameritrash, but I will strongly support the right of others to watch it. Heck, I'll even encourage you to play the archetypal American entertainer Whitney Houston's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner while you're at it ;-)