Gov't plan excludes film, TV from free trade

SYDNEY — The Australian government has rebuffed U.S. attempts to gain unfettered access to the country’s TV and film markets, but some film industry officials fear the fight to block what they see as further Hollywood encroachment is far from over.

On Wednesday, the government renewed its commitment to protecting Australia’s cultural identity by excluding the audiovisual and cultural sectors when it made its initial market access offer in World Trade Organization negotiations.

The WTO talks are separate from concurrent negotiations with the U.S. for a free-trade agreement between the two countries.

But in its approach to the WTO, the Oz government is clearly restating a policy that applies equally to the free-trade agreement discussions.

In the first round of free trade deliberations, U.S. negotiators signaled they want an end to local content quotas for commercial broadcasters, pay TV operators and TV commercials.

Their hit list also includes the Film Finance Corp. of Australia and tax breaks for film investment, according to Screen Producers Assn. of Australia reps who met the U.S. delegation recently.

“The AFC applauds the government’s consultation with Australia’s audiovisual sector and the transparency with which the ‘offer’ process has been conducted,” said Australian Film Commission chief exec Kim Dalton. “The government’s position demonstrates commitment to the special status of culture in trade negotiations.”

The AFC estimates 58% of TV programs launched in Oz in 2000-01 came from overseas, as opposed to 8% in the U.S. and 10% in the U.K.

The WTO negotiations are skedded to be completed in 2005. Implying that there will be more battles ahead, the AFC said it expects there will be “further offers, counteroffers and requests from member countries.”

Separately, in its annual report on trade barriers to U.S. exports, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative criticizes Australian federal and state governments for assigning a “relatively low priority” to copyright protection.

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