Guild hopes countervailing tariff will stem tide

The Screen Actors Guild, setting itself apart from much of the Hollywood establishment, has endorsed plans to fight runaway production through a countervailing tariff against U.S. producers using foreign subsidies.

Countervailing tariffs would require studios and nets who collect foreign production subsidies to pay a tariff of the same amount in order to be cleared to distribute their product in the United States.

The action, taken on a 49-28 vote by SAG’s national board, comes three weeks after the Guild-backed federal legislation was unveiled for a wage-based tax credit, Senate Bill 1278 by Sen. Blance Lambert Lincoln (D-Ark.). SAG director of legislative affairs Lance Simmens said the Guild continues to support the Lincoln bill.

“It was made very clear at the board meeting that our No. 1 priority is supporting SB 1278,” Simmens said. “Backing the countervailing tariff could enhance the chances of passage as a way of focusing attention on the runaway production as an issue of enormous importance to our membership. SAG’s thinking is that we’re taking a serious approach to pursue all possible avenues on this issue. “

Not all agree

But other members of the Film U.S. Alliance, a two-year-old coalition formed to slow the flight of U.S. films, believe SAG’s stance is misguided because the measure invites retaliation by trade partners.

“The Alliance is not in support of the countervailing tariffs because we view them as protectionism with the potential for greater loss of jobs,” said Dawn Keezer, head of the Film U.S. Alliance and director of the Pittsburgh Film office. “We think countervailing tariffs are a no-win situation.”

Keezer admitted that SAG’s move was not a surprise, given last month’s endorsement of countervailing tariffs by SAG’s legislative committee. The decision, made following hours of contentious debate over cutting the size of the board, was not disclosed until Monday in order to give SAG time to notify the Alliance members first.

Supporters of SB 1278 include Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the American Film Marketing Assn., the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, the Directors Guild of America, the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., the Producers Guild of America, the Production Equipment Rental Assn. and the Recording Musicians Assn.

No compromise

Still, Keezer said that SAG support of countervailing tariffs had not compromised the Guild’s support of the Lincoln bill. “The Alliance is strong because it allows its members to take individual actions, as SAG has done on this issue,” she added.

Simmens said SAG reps believe the use of countervailing tariffs needs to be explored because the Canadian government has pursued U.S. producers aggressively through financial incentives ostensibly based on trade treaties’ protection of Canadian cultural content. He admitted that the idea received a cool reception at a recent meeting at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

“What we’re doing shows that SAG is willing to step out of the box and be a serious player,” he added. “Our goal is to protect our members and help the small business owner.”

Resolutions supporting countervailing tariffs were voted down overwhelmingly last month by delegates to the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Prexy Tom Short strongly opposed the measures as counterproductive and unfair to the union’s 12,000 Canadian members.

The SAG endorsement, which represents official approval of 98,000 SAG members, makes it far easier for backers of the tariff plan to make a formal filing with the Intl. Trade Administration of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and the U.S. Intl. Trade Commission. To file, petitioners must show that they rep half of the employees in the affected industry or about 135,000 of the 270,000 employees in U.S. showbiz jobs.

Tariff supporters

The Film and Television Action Committee, a coalition of below-the-line employees, has been the key org behind a countervailing tariff. FTAC officials contend that Lincoln’s legislation amounts to corporate welfare with little chance of passage.

“God Bless SAG for stepping forward,” said FTA treasurer Joyce Erickson. “Countervailing tariffs are based on laws that have been on the books since the 1930s. They are the best way to neutralize another country’s unfair trade practices.”

Erickson said that supporters of the FTAC petition have already gathered about 9,000 signatures.

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