Screen industry guilds and producers fear a trade treaty which the Australian government is negotiating with the US and 10 other countries will threaten local content regulations.
Guilds representing writers, directors, actors and technicians and Screen Producers Australia have been lobbying the government to exempt audio-visual and cultural goods and services from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
The government wants to finalise the agreement with the US, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia by the end of this year.
Australian Writers’ Guild executive director Jacqueline Elaine tells IF she believes the government will surrender at least some parts of the exemption, known as a cultural carve-out.
“I am absolutely convinced there will be a trade-off against other national priorities,“ says Elaine, who, together with reps from Screen Producers Australia, the Australian Directors Guild and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, has maintained close contact with the relevant negotiators.
Elaine believes Attorney General and Arts Minister Senator George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull understand the challenges facing the screen industries and the need to maintain local content regulations for free-to-air broadcasters and pay-TV channels.
She sees both Ministers as allies in the cause to protect Australian content but thinks the new Trade Minister Andrew Robb “would be less familiar with our industry and some of its nuances.”
She contends, “Protecting local content is not protectionism. It is a market correction because Australia does not pay the proper price for US (content). If the US dumped sugar in Australia (at a comparable discount) there would be outrage.” She says the local content rules are “unlikely to remain untouched” when the TPPA is formalised.
One concern is that the US may choose to abide by the new treaty if it is more beneficial to US interests than the US-Australia free trade agreement which the Howard government negotiated. Since then, all free trade agreements Australia has made with other countries have exempted the cultural and entertainment industries from their provisions.
So another concern is that concessions that Australia gave the US, such as agreeing not to increase local content quotas, would apply to our relationships with other countries such as Japan.
The Hollywood trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America, is steadfastly opposed to local content quotas especially as they relate to digitally-delivered products.
The US FTA obliges the Australian government to consult with the US before imposing any new quotas on digital services such as Video-on-Demand, and only to ensure that Australian content is ‘not unreasonably denied’ to Australian consumers, and applying solely to companies that carry on business in Australia.
If those restrictions were included in the TPPA, the audio-visual industry argues the government would be required to consult with all 11 other countries before it could extend local content quotes to digital platforms.
Elaine says the US negotiators have reversed their previously stated position on local content quotas as acceptable cultural protection. They now decry quotas as an unacceptable trade-distorting measure.