MPAA lodges protest over U.S. trade talks

Members of the Motion Picture Assn. of America have registered a protest at the White House following a published report that U.S. negotiators might jettison the audiovisual sector in world trade talks.

MPAA member company chieftains fired off missives to U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills and White House Chief of Staff James Baker following a report in the Journal of Commerce concerning an upcoming services agreement negotiated under the General Agreement on Tarrifs and Trade (GATT).

At issue are the industry’s efforts to end European Community quotas on American-made TV programs. The campaign has been an issue in an upcoming GATT agreement on trade in services, the first such world pact involving services.

The unconfirmed report said that in their rush to complete action by year end , U.S. and EC negotiators may have agreed to exclude audiovisual trade because of an impasse involving the programming quota and other trade issues.

If the report is correct, it sounds like deja vu to disappointed program producers. “Our industry has twice been swept aside by last-minute decisions by our government to accept cultural exclusions, first in the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and then from the just-negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement,” said the MPAA letter.

“To again exclude the A-V sectors would place our industry in a position where we would have to export jobs, rather than creative product, in order to compete in the global marketplace,” the members wrote. “(It) would be intolerable and unacceptable.”

They said they would be compelled to support “a series of actions designed to safeguard our industry against unfair and discriminatory trade barriers.” Included are independent legislation, possible outright opposition to GATT, and other trade-related protests.

The letter was signed by MPAA prez Jack Valenti and the heads of its seven member studios.

The report said that since U.S. negotiators won’t budge on issues related to shipping, the EC has told Washington it won’t heed the Bush administration’s demands that it roll back local-content broadcast quotas. The EC directive is not binding, but allows member states to limit the sale of foreign films and TV shows.

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