It has been a year and a half since the WTO ruled China’s restriction of U.S. books, music and film to be in violation of free-trade laws. Now, at long last, the ruling’s implementation this March could possibly see an expansion of the foreign film quota, which is currently set at a flexible 20 per year. The operative word here is ‘could.’
We got especially excited this week after reading China Daily’s article about the opening up of the Chinese film industry:
And the number of foreign films being screened in China is likely to be increased this year. Under a World Trade Organization ruling, foreign producers will, from March 19, be able to contract private film companies to distribute their films on the mainland. If the Chinese government allows this ruling to take effect, it is expected that more than just 20 foreign films will be brought to Chinese cinemas.
The language is wishy-washy at best, and we aren’t the only ones who are skeptical. Stan Abrams of China Hearsay pointed out that really nothing in the WTO ruling directly affects the quota:
Yes, the WTO ruling necessitates a change in China’s law regarding film distribution and imports, but it does not mandate any changes to the import quota. I don’t see what the connection here is between the WTO case and the numbers of films being allowed into China, unless the government is considering raising the quota a bit so that importers like China Film Group don’t lose out of too much revenue. It’s possible, but I haven’t heard about it.
Bummer, but don’t lose hope yet. Going by the theatrical releases in February, it would appear China is either burning through its quota or plans to expand it. After already releasing Tron and one of the Narnias in January, February already saw the opening of The Tourist, and will follow with Armored on the 22nd, Alpha and Omega on the 25th and I am Number Four on the 28th. Woo!
The Chinese box office grew 64% in 2010 to $1.5 billion. Almost a third of that came from the 24 imported films screened in 2010, and almost half of that came from Avatar, which alone grossed $210 million.
If you’re interested in the Chinese film industry and what the WTO ruling means for its development, be sure to read the rest of the China Daily and China Hearsay stories above. Gady Epstein also has a great roundup of what’s happening financially in the accelerating Chinese cinemas industry, where new screens are opening at a rate of 4.2 per day!