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H’w’d trade war

Showbiz at center of commerce confab storm

VANCOUVER — Hollywood will be making its case and taking its share of lumps during the new round of talks at the World Trade Organization meeting starting in Seattle today.

Entertainment industry issues will be on the table alongside controversies involving genetically engineered corn, widening trade with China and Third World sweatshops, among other things.

American movies, intellectual property reforms, e-commerce, Canadian runaway film production and the hundreds of other issues that are surfacing here, however, are diminishing U.S. hopes for a manageable round as contention could degenerate into chaos.

This four-day meeting is in fact heading for gridlock, and the WTO — which is supposed to be the traffic cop directing the flow of global commerce — has become the bad guy for critics on both the right and left.

About 50,000 protesters of all stripes are expected here today, along with 3,000 delegates from 132 countries. President Clinton is also scheduled to speak today.

Up from Los Angeles are entertainment trade unionists — among some 30,000 Americans here affiliated with the AFL-CIO — and down from nearby Vancouver are another 3,000 demonstrators, many of them also union members.

Some of the Los Angeles contingent are here protesting Canadian subsidies to U.S. film producers; some of the Canadians are complaining about American film and television shows squeezing home-grown productions out of moviehouses and off TV channels.

Also braying is France, which pledged Monday to defend its filmmakers from competition from American blockbusters. French helmers fear the U.S. will use the WTO talks to weaken French government support for their films in a drive to increase Hollywood’s dominant market share in France.

French culture minister Catherine Trautmann said all European Union countries were committed to stopping American films from overwhelming local productions.

Europe’s trade deficit with the U.S. in television and films is now $6 billion, up from $2 billion in 1988.

Guarding a government cinema support fund is one of the key issues for France at the WTO meeting. Defense of subsidies for French farmers who produce traditional products such as Roquefort cheese and champagne is also high on its list of emotional issues.

French filmmakers are also concerned about new technologies that are not subject to French laws — they believe that the U.S. will focus on the general issue of free trade over the Internet as a diversion to promote digital delivery of Hollywood films to French cinemas. Such delivery could undermine existing French protectionist laws.

France requires a percentage of cinema ticket sales to be paid into its film support fund, and that a certain number of French films be aired on French TV.

U.S. films have enjoyed a 60% market share in France since 1990.

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