Hollywood fears Gatt deal could damage exports

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HOLLYWOOD has asked the outgoing Bush administration not to sign the Gatt accord unless it contains some provision to protect the US entertainment industry from European import restrictions.

Industry leaders are growing increasingly alarmed that the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade accord will be completed without including the film and television business, leaving them vulnerable to tough European quotas.

Chief executives of leading studios and independent production companies have urged the US trade representative, Carla Hills, not to complete the current talks in Geneva if the industry is excluded. They are particularly anxious that the US, in an effort to push through an agreement this month, will sacrifice Hollywood's interests. Similar appeals have been made to the Clinton administration.

The source of their anger is a European Commission directive that states that, wherever practical, the bulk of television airtime must be reserved for programmes that originate in the European Community. It means US films and television programmes can occupy a maximum of 49 per cent of a member country's output - although EC nations can impose harsher restrictions if they choose. France has particularly incensed the industry by doing so.

As its domestic market is virtually saturated, the US industry argues that it depends on exports - running at more than dollars 8bn - for growth. 'The quotas are an artificial barrier in the market place which is authorised by governments,' Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, said. 'No government should be allowed to force an Englishman, or a Scot or a Frenchman or Spaniard, to watch something on television that he doesn't want to see.'

The US entertainment industry wants to be included in Gatt because its executives believe the accord would override these EC quotas. But European countries have argued that it should be excluded under a 'cultural exemption' clause. They are largely motivated to protect their own industries, but there is also a view that US television is culturally polluting.

The American Film Marketing Association, which represents the independent sector, has sent a highly charged letter to Ms Hills, signed by 37 chief officers, urging the US not to capitulate.