UPDATE, 3:25 PM: After talks that went well into the evening, European Union trade ministers have agreed to France’s demands to keep the audiovisual sector out of upcoming EU-U.S. trade talks. That lifted a final barrier to a broader EU negotiation mandate that has now been finalized ahead of next week’s G8 summit in London which will informally kick off the talks. At issue was the so-called “Cultural Exception”, which holds that cultural goods and services are treated differently than other products. France has been worried that its own and other European film industries would suffer faced with an increased presence from Hollywood if trade barriers are brought down. After more than 12 hours of closed-door meetings today that ultimately resulted in the arts being excluded from the negotiation mandate, EU trade chief Karel de Grucht said, “I can live with this.” But, he left the door open for further discussion. “I’m going to listen to what our American friends have to tell us on this and if we judge it appropriate we will come forward with an additional demand for a mandate to the Council.” He took pains, however, to stress that this was not “a carve-out” and, addressing fears that the U.S. could in turn take something off the table in the trade talks, added that he is “not looking at this in terms of retailiation which doesn’t have its place in this kind of process.”
PREVIOUS, 10:12 AM: Ministers from the 27 European Union member states are still meeting in Luxembourg this evening as they attempt to reach an agreement on a negotiation mandate for upcoming trade talks with the U.S. I hear they’re getting closer on an agreement, but a press conference scheduled for more than three hours ago has been pushed indefinitely with no clear indication of when the politicians will emerge.The biggest issue facing the ministers has been France’s position on the coveted Cultural Exception, which holds that cultural goods and services are treated differently than other products. France is known to have been steadfast going into the meeting, promising a veto of any proposals that kept film, television or digital media on the table in the upcoming trade talks. France is worried that its own and other European film industries would suffer faced with an increased presence from Hollywood if barriers are brought down. But several ministers said this morning they were hopeful of being able to reach an agreement that would appease the French. Finland’s Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade, Alexander Stubb, told reporters, “I fully understand the political sensitivities in France in audiovisual matters and I hope that we find a solution which is acceptable for the French. In my mind, if you look at the mandate, there is absolutely nothing that threatens the French or the European film industries.” French Trade Minister Nicole Bricq on the other hand, did not speak with reporters on her way in this morning, saying, “Later, later, later” as she walked by.
Pressure is on to reach a consensus on the negotiation mandate today as members are eager to kick off negotiations at next week’s G8 summit in London. While assurances have been made that member states would be able to keep their quotas and subsidy systems, and that they would have the right of a first-look at any potential negotiations on the arts, France has said it will flat out refuse a mandate unless the arts are excluded entirely. But the European Commission is worried that going into the trade talks with one area completely excluded could allow the U.S. to take something off the table as well. Stubb told reporters he found it “difficult to envisage a solution that would have a total carve-out.” European member states are largely in favor of an overall free trade agreement which would increase GDP by 0.5% annually through 2027. “That’s a big chunk and it’s a strong message,” said Stubb.