Thursday

19th Sep 2019

MEPs divided on culture clause in US trade talks

  • Excluding areas, such as culture, from trade talks even before they begin is unhelpful, believe some MEPs (Photo: Didier Misson)

MEPs are divided over whether the European culture sector should be excluded from talks on an EU-US trade agreement, following a vote on Thursday (25 April).

Deputies on the Parliament's International Trade committee backed a report by Portuguese centre-left deputy Vital Moreira by 23 votes to 5 calling for the EU's priorities to include the opening up of the public procurement and financial services sectors.

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However, in a sign that MEPs are divided on the scope of trade talks, an amendment calling for cultural and audiovisual services to be excluded from talks was narrowly carried by 14 votes to 11.

Following the vote, Moreira, who is also the committee's chairman, commented that excluding sectors before talks had even begun was "not helpful."

"The best way to start negotiations is not to set out exceptions that would limit room for negotiations," he added. He was optimistic that the amendment would be reversed when MEPs take their final vote on the report during the May Strasbourg session.

Moreira claimed that a transatlantic trade deal had "huge potential for growth and jobs" adding that the European commission's negotiating team should focus on increasing market access of goods and services as well as foreign investment in the US economy.

Research prepared for the commission by the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), a London-based think tank, has indicated that a US trade deal could increase EU economic output by up to €119 billion a year, equivalent to around 1 percent of GDP.

But there are already concerns that member states want to limit the scope of talks. Last week the French government insisted that the EU exclude defence and culture from trade talks. France's trade minister Nicole Bricq stated that Paris would veto any deal which did not respect these red lines.

Excluding entire sectors would limit the economic benefits of a trade deal, according to the CEPR, which claims that failure to go beyond agreement on conventional tariff barriers would limit economic gains to around €23.7 billion.

The EU treaties already require its institutions to protect 'cultural diversity' across the bloc, with similar safeguards for public services and data protection.

Meanwhile, in a nod to the collapse of the controversial anti-counterfeit treaty Acta, Moreira called on the commission to "learn lessons".

MEPs rejected Acta in May 2012, accusing trade commissioner Karel de Gucht of negotiating in secret without parliamentary scrutiny or access to documents.

Moreira said that the EU executive had "given assurances" that the committee would be briefed both before and after each round of negotiations, expected to take between one and two years.

Although parliament will not be involved in the negotiations, its support will be required for any agreement to enter into force.

Ministers are expected to then agree on a negotiating mandate for the EU executive in June.

France threatens US trade veto over culture

The French government has dismissed as "naive" suggestions that a transatlantic trade deal with the US could substantially benefit the EU economy and take it out of crisis.

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Liberty and the EU-US trade talks

The conflict over 'l’exception culturelle' is illustrative of a more fundamental dividing line in trade politics within the European Union.

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