Ever since les dinos from “Jurassic Park” charged into 450 French cinemas last month, they have devoured millions of hard-earned francs and provided France’s favorite new metaphor for America--a giant, often noisome bully trying to conquer the world.
To make matters worse, Mickey Kantor, the U.S. trade representative and a man whose name may be better known in France than in America, “admitted” that he had seen “Jurassic Park” three times, according to the French press.
Voila! Maybe, some here suggested, that helps explain why the United States is paralyzing trade talks, stubbornly refusing the eminently reasonable requests of the French to renegotiate farm subsidies and exempt cultural subsidies in a new accord.
Many in America these days may see the French as the frustrated proprietors of a diminished empire--loving protectors of their heavily subsidized farmers and guardians of a film industry that has lost touch with its audience.
But, from France, the view is much different.
Here, Americans are increasingly being seen as the world’s irritating new imperialists, coddling U.S. industries while demanding free trade everywhere else, and treating important foreign countries such as France--in the words of film director Claude Berri--"like they dealt with the redskins.” And he didn’t mean the football team.
“The Americans are on the offensive,” French President Francois Mitterrand declared recently. “We are only defending a legitimate cause. We have the right to ask the American government to have the same regard for the Europeans as they do for our friends, the Canadians.”
Nothing illustrates the new testiness in the Franco-American relationship better than the long-simmering international trade talks known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT. The goal of GATT is to lower barriers to exports on everything from beer to textiles, and it would be the broadest trade liberalizing accord in world history.
But as those 7-year-old talks approach a firm deadline of Dec. 15, they remain stalled, primarily due to disagreements between France and the United States over subsidies to farmers and filmmakers.
The French view of America hasn’t been helped, either, by the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement or by President Clinton’s suggestions that perhaps the United States has been too Eurocentric in its world view.
Many French analysts worry that the concessions Clinton had to make to protectionist forces in the United States to get NAFTA approved have given him less room to maneuver on GATT. And Charles Pasqua, France’s interior minister, said that lately he is finding Clinton “sure of himself, dominating and a little bit irritating.”
To be sure, the French and the Americans have long had a complex relationship.
“You know French people--they love American people,” said Linda Berkley, the merchandising agent for “Jurassic Park” in France. “Because they love American people, they also like to criticize them and hate them a little bit. It’s always been that way between French and Americans. A lot of love and a lot of fights. But always a good ending.”
Maybe. But this time the stakes are very high.
The Americans contend that a key plank of GATT--one that would cut subsidies and price supports for European farmers to level the world playing field--was already written a year ago by U.S. and European negotiators.
But France disagrees, arguing that the 12 European Community partners were not properly consulted by their negotiators. And the new conservative government here has threatened to veto the accord if it is not renegotiated.
Edouard Balladur, France’s prime minister, has sweet-talked his farmers into accepting almost any concessions from the Americans. But there will have to be U.S. concessions; on that, the French are standing firm.
“If nothing budges, there will not be an accord with France,” Balladur has declared. “And nothing has budged.”
The French government is torn between the knowledge that a GATT accord to liberalize trade would be good for France and the certainty that its farmers will take to the streets if the current pact on farm subsidies is allowed to stand.
France and the United States also disagree strongly on cultural subsidies, and it is on that issue that some of the strongest feelings have emerged.
France wants filmmaking and other cultural pursuits, which are heavily subsidized, to be exempt from the trade talks. American films are screened widely here, and, in fact, account for nearly 60% of all ticket sales, compared to France’s 2% of the U.S. market.
Jack Lang, a former culture minister in the French government, recently declared: “It is not tolerable that certain North American audiovisual groups shamelessly colonize our countries.” His sentiments have been echoed by many French actors and directors.
But the Americans, and Hollywood in particular, would like to see all barriers to their entertainment products removed.
“No one wants to expel the Americans from Europe,” said Bernard Miyet, the French government’s chief negotiator on audiovisual matters. “But you can’t brush us aside, saying we’re trying to protect ourselves behind protectionist barriers.”
Miyet, who was the French consul general in Los Angeles until 1989, contends that the French are only trying to save the life of their film industry, the liveliest in Europe. With their smaller potential market, and American resistance to subtitled movies, French filmmakers cannot make the profitable, big-budget pictures that emerge from Hollywood and attract millions of fans around the world.
“There is no way for us to be able to compete equally with the American market,” Miyet said.
Emmanuel de Roux, the deputy cultural editor of the influential daily Le Monde, contends it is America that is being protectionist. “It’s a fact,” he said in an interview. “European products are extremely difficult to show there.”
“I’m not saying that American is bad and European is good,” De Roux added. “It has nothing to do with quality. It’s purely economic. But the day European cinema disappears, the quality of American cinema will go, too.”