Don’t fear Hollywood.
While the U.S. government is negotiating free trade pacts with various countries, it is not striving to abolish local TV quotas or film subsidies, Jack Valenti told Variety.
The Motion Picture Assn. of America prez was responding to Aussie fears that the U.S. wants to make such moves in a free trade agreement. However, his soothing declarations speak to a wider audience: The U.S.-Oz trade pact is widely seen as setting a precedent for future treaties.
The U.S. formed Free Trade Agreement with Canada; the Oz deal will be the second with a developed nation. President Bush said he wants the FTA to be concluded by the end of this year.
Some have said that U.S. negotiators will seek to preclude the Oz government from introducing any cultural support measures or extending present subsidies. (The U.S. is seeking such an agreement in the audiovisual sector in World Trade Organization talks.)
In Cannes on Sunday, Valenti said U.S. trade negotiators have to decide that issue, but “We believe in the status quo. If sterner measures are taken, we are (opposed) to that. It’s a two-way street and we are trying to be fair.”
Australian Film Commission chairman Maureen Barron told an industry briefing in Sydney this month: “The Australian position is to retain the right to determine, alter and potentially strengthen cultural regulation.”
On Sunday, Valenti outlined the MPAA policy on the free trade negotiations with Australia in clear terms: “We are not seeking the elimination of the 55% local content quota on broadcast TV. We are not seeking to eliminate subsidies for local production.
“We are trying to get balanced provisions in film, TV and homevideo that take into account cultural and trade concerns.”
While he did not challenge the reg that obliges pay TV channels to spend 10% of their annual programming budgets on Australian productions, he said, “We want to explore the opportunity for additional flexibility in the administration of the pay TV investment quota.”
He pointed to free trade pacts the U.S. has just negotiated with Singapore and Chile as proof of the U.S. recognition of local cultural concerns. The agreement with Chile leaves intact its local content quota on terrestrial TV and Valenti noted, “Chilean broadcasters have consistently achieved local content of more than 50% so the quota has never been implemented.”
Valenti stressed the value to Oz of U.S. and other offshore-originated production lensed Down Under, estimating it was worth nearly $1 billion in the 1990s decade.
He said foreign investment in feature films shot in Australia in 2001-02 was valued at $185 million, repping 54% of total film investment.
The MPAA’s other major goal in trade pacts is to strengthen copyright protection enforcement and penalties in signatory countries.
Valenti and French Culture Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon issued a joint declaration Saturday calling on all nations to fight piracy, especially digital theft, via laws and technological innovation.
Additionally the two called for a meeting to assess progress on the piracy issue at Cannes 2004.
(Shalini Dore contributed to this report.)