France cleared the EU to launch free-trade talks with the US on Friday after fellow EU members accepted its demand to shield movies and online entertainment from the might of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
After 12 hours of talks, EU officials announced that the 27 EU trade ministers had finally agreed a negotiating mandate towards what could be the world’s most ambitious trade agreement.
Paris had refused to join the 26 other EU governments unless TV, movies and developing online media were left out.
The final mandate given to EU Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht, who will lead negotiations, does not include the audiovisual sector. However, it does give the commission the right to ask member states for a broader mandate at a later stage.
“I can live with this,” De Gucht told a news conference.
French Minister of Trade Nicole Bricq said it was “written clearly in black and white” that culture was excluded.
“We are satisfied, but I don’t want to call it a victory,” she said after the deal was struck late on Friday.
Trade between Europe and the US is worth almost US$3 billion a day, and an accord could boost both the EU and US economies by more than US$100 billion a year each — an attractive prospect when both are emerging from low or no growth and are keen to create jobs.
Together the US and EU account for half of global economic output and a third of all trade.
With a mandate agreed, European leaders and US President Barack Obama plan to use a summit of the G8 countries next week to launch talks. EU and US negotiators aim to finish their work by the end of next year.
Free-trade advocates Germany and Britain had argued that excluding an industry from the talks would prompt a similar US opt-out, such as to protect its closed shipping sector.
Nevertheless, they said it was vital to push ahead with what would be the world’s biggest trade agreement, because of the economic benefits it would bring, especially when much of western Europe is in recession.
“This is historic,” a contented Swedish Minister of Trade Ewa Bjorling said. “The commission now has a broad mandate.”
The US has said it also wants to go into the talks with as broad a mandate as possible.
The EU needed French agreement because under EU rules, trade deals touching on cultural issues need unanimous support.
France, widely considered the birthplace of cinema, has a proud tradition of more than a century of publicly and critically acclaimed movies, and pumps more public funds into its film industry than any other EU member.
The EU audiovisual sector is worth 17 billion euros (US$22.68 billion) and provides jobs for a million people.
The US already sells the EU far more music, movies, radio and TV programs than it buys from Europe. Its net surplus for the sector averaged 1.5 billion euros a year from 2004 to 2011.