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Hard talk on trade

AFMA looks for equal footing with Euros

CANNES — Industry execs and lobbyists here are predicting that the American Film Marketing Assn. is heading for trouble over its position on the upcoming General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) international trade talks.

In Cannes this year, AFMA prez Mike Frischkorn told Daily Variety that the association is looking for U.S. indie producers to get “national treatment” in Euro territories or at least partial national treatment. With national treatment, U.S. indies would be treated as if they were local companies — not only giving them access to that country’s subsidy money but also exempting them from local quotas.

Currently, some European countries provide subsidies and financial support for local pics that are not available to the U.S. indies.

Frischkorn said that AFMA would also go after partial national treatment, for the purposes of quotas but not necessarily for subsidies. He stressed that AFMA is at a starting point position right now with its policy development, and hopes to have a strategy developed within a month.

Making a passing reference to the European Union’s continued television quota rules — designed to encourage programming of Euro product — Frischkorn noted, “Europe is mostly open,” before hinting that he would like further trade liberalization from the Euro side.

AFMA execs are stressing that the association’s definitive stance going into the GATS discussions is still being debated and that it’s far from certain that confrontation with the Euros will occur.

But if Frischkorn pushes for opening up the European film support system to U.S. companies, most people think he’s going to get his nose bloodied.

A top-level international meeting in Seattle this fall will set the agenda and length of the GATS talks, which have to start before next year.

“Europe has a system to try and develop its own industry and defend its own culture,” commented a veteran French film lobbyist. “We saw off the GATT threat from Hollywood in the early 1990s and we’ll do the same with GATS.”

The GATT trade talks turned into an acrimonious fight between Hollywood and the European Union, particularly France.

Paris fought hard to keep “culture,” including film and television, out of the trade agreement, despite strong opposition from MPAA president Jack Valenti.

Significantly, questioned about his GATS stance, Valenti told Daily Variety in Cannes, “if the French want to subsidize their industry, that’s not a problem with me.”

That attitude represents a complete U-turn on his position of the early 1990s and reflects the hard slog Valenti had to rebuild damaged relations between Hollywood and Europe in the wake of the GATT spat.