On the eve of the signing an ambitious pan-Latin American filmagreement, the head of Argentina's film institute has underlined hisdetermination to face off against the MPAA, protect the local film industry andsupport moves to make film and other "cultural products" an exception in worldtrade agreements.

INCAA head Jorge Coscia and representatives of the other countriesof Mercosur, a body that seeks to be the Latin American equivalent of theEuropean Union, meet tonight [March 15] at the Mar del Plata film festival tosign a declaration of intent that aims to foster closer collaboration betweenthe member countries, as regards their film policies, and encourage thedistribution of Latin American films within the continent.

The objectives of the agreement include:

- to set up a common film fund, Fondo de Fomento Audiovisual, tosupport the development of Latin American film industries.

- to adopt a common position in all international tradenegotiations, including those of the World Trade Organisation and the AmericanFree Trade Agreement, known as ALCA, and to replace bilateral trade talks withagreements between Mercosur and other regional bodies, such as the EuropeanUnion.

- to focus resources on the development of the film industries ofthose Latin American countries with relatively weak local production sectors,in particular Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile.

- to reduce customs duties on cinematographic product between themember countries, with the intention to create a free market for films, withoutborders, in Latin America.

- to appoint a technical coordinator to help implement thesemeasures and establish of a permanent headquarters for Mercosur's nascent filmbody, RECAM. The first meeting of this body will be held in Montevideo on March26.

Argentina will seek to align Mercosur with those countries, suchas France, Brazil and Canada, that back the "cultural exception" in world tradetalks. "Cultural products should not be treated in same way as othermanufactured products," said Coscia today. "It is the only way to havesuccessful cultural policies."

Coscia also backs government action to protect local filmindustries, such as those adopted by Korea and France in the past. "When Koreadefended its cinema [by means of quotas and subsidies], its industry gained instrength," he said. "We reject any pressure by the MPAA to dispense with suchpolicies.

"The US createdsuch a strong film industry by defending it," he continued. "Now they say 'Doas I say, not as I do.' We wish to emulate what the US has achieved. Ourpolicies are not intended to damage other film industries but to improve ourown. If the majors control 80% of the box office, we don't want them toincrease it to 90%."