Fresh row looms over HDTV : Britain asks for research to be made available to Japanese firms

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BRITAIN is set for a further clash with its European partners in Luxembourg today over the future of high definition television (HDTV).

After 18 months of blocking plans to fund it in the European Community on technology grounds, the UK will demand that research and development funded by the European Commission be made available to Japanese companies based in Europe.

The Danish presidency is keen to agree on a funding programme of around ecu200m ( pounds 158m), already scaled back from the ecu850m originally wanted by the Commission. The Government refused to agree to the original programme because it was based on analogue technology which would have been leapfrogged by the US's digital technology.

The Government has already angered the Netherlands and France, which have spent heavily on analogue HDTV championed by the electronics giants, Philips and Thomson.

The Danish presidency has tried to meet Britain's concerns by suggesting the development initially of high- quality wide-screen television technologies before moving towards digital HDTV.

The original programme envisaged by the Commission was also unacceptable because it would have meant a massive indirect subsidy to European companies with little benefit to the UK.

However, UK ministers are keen to agree on an enabling programme that promotes wide-screen technologies, including those that may be digital. But it is certain that the Government will hold out for an action plan open to all companies with European operations, including the Japanese.

The meeting could prove a baptism of fire for Patrick McLoughlin, now the minister responsible for telecommunications at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Access to European digital technology would be of particular benefit to Sony, which makes televisions in Wales.

Although the Japanese have their own well-advanced HDTV programmes, these are also based on analogue technology and could quickly become superseded.

It is understood that if Britain's EC partners fail to agree on the latest demands, the issue will be held back for the meeting marking the end of the Danish presidency in July.