Will France's "Culture" Concerns Delay US-EU FTA?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 6/14/2013 10:21:00 AM
I have already dubbed the proposed " Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" AKA the US-EU FTA a non-event on the grounds that (a) the counterparties are slow-growing economies (b) which already have few barriers on each other's products [around 2% tariff rates on average]. Also, (c) they face several obstacles to further liberalization on products with tariff peaks that will at best result in a watered-down agreement --especially in agriculture. While this FTA bores me already, I have nonetheless found France's intransigence somewhat intriguing given the run-ins they've had with the United States over various issues. Remember those "freedom fries"? I surely do.

A few weeks ago I discussed how the French were likely to raise a stink about "cultural imperialism" insofar as their "superior" culture was to be overwhelmed by Hollywood's brand of lowbrow tinselled trash. Call it the cultural special safeguard mechanism. While agreeing that much US video entertainment is garbage, it is not my place or that of anyone else's to question the questionable taste of French consumers. That is, if they prefer Hollywood fare to France's own productions, well, tough. Obstinate French officials are pressing this point, though. They will surely ask for exceptions in agriculture--just you wait since they will come just as night follows day--but possibly delaying the start of FTA negotiations over exceptions to entertainment is exceptional:
France is "extremely determined" to keep movies and digital media out of free trade talks between the EU and the United States, a government minister said on Wednesday, a stance that could block the start of negotiations. Two days before EU countries are supposed to give the go-ahead for negotiations, the EU is struggling to find a compromise that satisfies France's "cultural" concerns without exempting the audiovisual sector from the wide-reaching talks.

"France defends and will defend the cultural exception to the end - that's a red line," French 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. Asked if Paris would go as far as blocking the opening of talks on what would be the world's largest free-trade agreement, she replied: "France is extremely determined."

The first round of talks has been tentatively scheduled for July, but both sides must first agree the scope of the negotiations, something EU trade ministers should finalize at talks on Friday.
Later today the eurocrats will discuss the coverage of FTA negotiations. Expect more drama from the French. Mas oui!

UPDATE 1: The French will not block the start of the negotiations after winning an exemption on media products after hours and hours of negotiations (albeit with some qualifiers):
Paris had refused to join the 26 other EU governments unless television, movies and developing online media were left out.
The final mandate given to EU trade chief Karel De Gucht, who will lead negotiations, does not include the audiovisual sector. However, it does give the Commission the right to ask member states for a broader mandate at a later stage. "I can live with this," De Gucht told a news conference.
French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq said it was "written clearly in black and white" that culture was excluded.
UPDATE 2: A number of top European directors are elated about "victory" in a culture trade war.