EU ministers have come together to try to overcome French resistance to free-trade talks with the US. France's desire to protect its film industry from Hollywood has put up a major hurdle for a deal.
Analysts said that Friday's meeting of EU trade ministers in Luxembourg would need to be successful in order to keep alive plans for a trans-Atlantic free-trade deal with the potential to boost struggling economies by dramatically increasing business between Europe and the US.
The pact would deliver the largest area of free trade in the world, affecting more than 800 million people, with the daily flow of goods and services between the two sides already amounting to almost 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) daily.
EU ministers are under pressure to agree on a negotiating mandate on Friday so that the start of official negotiations can be announced at the forthcoming G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week.
Bumpy road ahead
The biggest challenge will be to overcome French reservations as the country's government and film industry have teamed up to push for an exclusion of audiovisual services from any agreement. France appeared worried that Europe's film and music sector might be harmed by Hollywood.
"France will oppose the opening of negotiations if culture is not excluded," Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned unambiguously.
The EU executive has so far promised to protect existing film subsidies and quotas, but has objected a wholesale exemption of the audiovisual sector.
The US ambassador to the EU, William Kennard, told The Financial Times that there would be a price to pay if a mandate were released that constrained the negotiators.
EU and US officials expressed the hope that a deal could be concluded by mid-2014. However, the film and music sector is not the only area where negotiating problems might arise: Regulations on agricultural exports and military supplies could also prove rather tricky.
hg/mkg (Reuters, dpa)