EU: Korea trade offer a nonstarter

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BRUSSELS -- The European Union on Tuesday rejected South Korean plans for a free trade deal that would open Europe's broadcasting and film industries.

The Korean government believes that EU countries set unfair taxes on foreign films and television, and wants them scrapped as part of current negotiations on a broader trade pact. Seoul, which has made the issue a priority in trade talks, says its emerging movie and television industry cannot break into European markets.

However, the European Commission -- which negotiates on behalf of the 27-nation EU -- said that Korea's own offer in the trade discussions was "simply not strong enough," raising the prospect that the negotiations might break down.

"I am disappointed by their approach," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in Brussels. "If Korea wants to negotiate this round expeditiously, they're going to have to cut down the ping-ponging of offers and go straight to a higher level of ambition. They need a much more muscular approach."

Commission officials said that the taxes Korea is complaining about are not EU-wide, but rather set by only a few of the EU's member states. They also pointed out that recent Korean films -- such as last year's "The Host" -- have enjoyed unprecedented success in Europe. But Seoul says this success is meager compared to the huge range of European cinema and television programs available in Korea.

The EU is negotiating a free-trade deal aimed at boosting their $84 billion trade relationship. The new proposal would abolish tariffs on most goods and services within seven years.
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