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U.S.-Oz free-trade talks take on a digital shift

Aussies fight to protect local film, TV industry

SYDNEY — The battle between the Australian film industry and the U.S. over a free trade agreement has shifted to the digital front.

The Australian Film Commission and industry guilds are worried that U.S. negotiators will press for a standstill agreement, which would mean Oz could not enact new cultural policies such as regulating or subsidizing broadband and digital services.

“Australian audiovisual culture is still on the table and still under threat,” AFC chief exec Kim Dalton said Monday.

Dalton was due to lead a delegation, including thesps Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, to meet lawmakers in Canberra today to press for the protection of the Australian film and TV industry in the free trade agreement being negotiated with the U.S.

Fears relieved

The industry no longer fears Hollywood wants to abolish local content TV quotas or film subsidies after assurances from Motion Picture Assn. of America prez Jack Valenti during last month’s Cannes fest.

But Valenti said in a Variety interview in Cannes that his org favors the status quo and would oppose “sterner measures.”

“The U.S. aims to restrain the Australian government’s capacity to subsidize or regulate to ensure that minimum levels of Australian content will be available to Australians in the online delivery of digitized entertainment/information/news or broadband services,” said Dalton.

The AFC, backed by the Screen Producers Assn. and the Screen Directors Assn., wants the government to exclude digital products from talks, using as a model a recent free trade pact between Australia and Singapore.

The U.S. contends a digital product should be treated differently from an analog version of the same product, whereas the Australian position is that digitization is simply the means of delivery.

At the next round of U.S.-Australia talks due to be held in Hawaii next month, Oz negotiators expect the U.S. to spell out its demands for access to the media and entertainment markets.

Meantime, the AFC and industry reps are due to meet with Minister Mark Vaile June 25 to express their concerns.

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