EU says 'cultural exception' to remain out of US trade talks

Policies that help protect European culture and media from the Hollywood juggernaut will not be part of EU-US trade talks set to begin later this year, European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said on Monday

"Europe will not put its cultural exception at risk through trade negotiations," De Gucht said in a statement.

"Nothing in the free trade agreement with the United States will harm - or even have the potential to harm - Europe's cultural diversity," he said.

The decision comes after France warned last week it would not support the opening of EU-US free trade talks if audiovisual content is not excluded from the negotiations.

France has long argued in trade talks that audiovisual products, particularly films and TV shows, have a considerable social impact, in order to justify restrictions to protect national cultures and languages in the EU.

"Those member states that wish to maintain their assistance to this industry are free to do so," De Gucht said.

"France in particular remains perfectly free to maintain its subsidy schemes and quotas," he said.

France's insistence on the so-called cultural exception has been backed in a petition by many of Europe's biggest film directors including Oscar winners Michael Haneke and Pedro Almodovar.

With much of Europe in recession and the US recovery uncertain, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have looked at the mooted Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as a way to spur growth and create jobs.

EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday said he hoped talks with the US could reach an "historic" deal and should begin "before this summer."