December 13, 2007 / 12:04 AM / 11 years ago

Schwab complains at China putting U.S. movies on pause

XIANGHE, China (Reuters) - U.S. officials have “forcefully” told China that Washington does not consider it acceptable for China to suspend the showing of American-made movies, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said on Thursday.

A scene from DreamWorksParamount Pictures' "Transformers." Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said on Wednesday that China has stopped granting permission for U.S. movies to be shown in its theatres and the United States was trying to get the ban removed. REUTERS/DreamWorks Paramount Pictures/Handout

Speaking to reporters on the second and final day of a “strategic economic dialogue” on trade issues, Schwab said there was still no formal notification from China that such a suspension has occurred.

“We have not gotten formal confirmation that this problem has arisen,” Schwab said. “We have, however, indications that it may be a problem again and we have spoken forcefully to our Chinese hosts (about it).”

China Film Group Corporation, the sole importer of foreign films into China, said it had not heard of any ban, the China Daily reported.

“I have never heard of such a thing, that is, my company hasn’t received any instruction of the kind,” CFGC spokesman Weng Li told the paper.

China’s film bureau, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, also denied any ban.

“There have been no documents or announcements circulated, so everything should be normal,” a spokesman who declined to leave his name told Reuters by phone.

Schwab said the fact that China had been permitted to limit its imports of U.S.-made movies to 20 a year, agreed when it entered the World trade Organization, was a factor contributing to ongoing tensions over protection of intellectual property.

“If Chinese citizens want to watch American movies and they can’t go to movie theatres to see them then they are going to smuggle in and purchase copies of DVDs and that is a part of the market access case that we’ve taken to the WTO,” she said.

“If in fact the Chinese authorities have put a ban on new movies during the next three, four, five months...that would be very serious indeed and it would be an issue that we will continue to push very hard on.”

She said it had already been raised “at all appropriate high levels,” including with Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi who heads the Chinese delegation at the talks that wind up at mid-day on Thursday.

The Chinese restrictions have little impact on stopping Chinese people seeing foreign movies, as pirated versions of DVDs can be bought off the street for as little as a dollar a copy, often within days of official release.

The talks — the third in a series since the strategic economic dialogue was initiated a year ago — were to wrap up with a closing press conference where the two sides were expected to claim continuing progress in settling issues.

U.S. officials had indicated ahead there would be “deliverables” from the talks. Schwab indicated the two sides were working on a pact to extend the participation of foreign securities firms in China but said “we’re not there yet” on a final deal.

Reporting by Glenn Somerville, Eadie Chen and Zhou Xin, editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani

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