South Korea slams local exhibs

Bilateral free trade agreement with U.S. in the works

South Korea’s finance ministry has launched a stinging attack on the country’s screen quota guaranteeing that nearly half of the country’s movie theaters show local pictures.

The ministry is keen to dismantle or substantially weaken the quota to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S. by June 2007.

On Jan. 20, vice finance and economy minister Kwon Tae-shin hit out at the country’s booming film industry, accusing it of “collective selfishness.”

In 1998 Korea tentatively agreed to Washington’s request to cut the number of days that local exhibs must show Korean pics from 146 to 73, but met with industry resistance.

Since then Korea’s movie industry has blossomed, becoming the most influential in Asia.

Recently the government has given in to other U.S. demands including resuming the import of American beef. But it has appeared schizophrenic over the quotas.

In December, Kwon made similar comments about the need to abolish the quotas but was immediately countered by the ministry of culture. This time, however, is seen as the beginning of a period of lobbying ahead of a public hearing on the free trade agreement, skedded for Feb. 2.

(Patrick Frater in Hong Kong contributed to this article.)

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