On Friday, France vetoed the launch of free-trade negotiations between the EU and the US, though France has been racking up a trade surplus with the US and has much to lose if the US retaliates. The problem: cultural protectionism. It wanted “protection of cultural services and a clear and explicit exclusion of the audio-visual sector,” whined Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq at a Friday meeting of the EU trade ministers. Catch phrases for American movies and TV shows!
Her speech and the veto were hushed up in Europe, and I couldn’t find any reference to it in the major media outlets. But an unnamed “EU diplomat” leaked the text of her speech to the Chinese media group Xinhua, which wasn’t shy about spreading the word.
It was the day that the European Council was supposed to approve a mandate to start haggling over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US. All along, France had vociferously threatened to shut down the process before it even got started unless the European Commission included in advance a non-negotiable, iron-clad “cultural exception” to protect the French market from a tsunami of evils, namely American movies – a theme that goes back two decades.
France concocted this “cultural exception” under socialist President François Mitterrand and, with the support of a handful of other countries, forced it on the 1992-93 negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the so-called Uruguay Round – under thepretense that applying GATT principles to movies and other audiovisual products “would undermine their cultural specificity (and unique status), in favour of their commercial aspects.”