xi_jinping_web.jpgWASHINGTON — Cheering as loudly as any movie audience, Hollywood and the Obama administration hailed China's agreement to reduce barriers that have kept U.S.-made films out of the booming Chinese market.

Vice President Joe Biden called it a “breakthrough,” and said the accord will “make it easier than ever before for U.S. studios and independent filmmakers to reach the fast-growing Chinese audience.” He added that it will support “thousands of American jobs in and around the film industry.”

The agreement was announced Feb. 17 during a California visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, with Biden serving as host.

Gaining entrance to China's movie market has long been atop Hollywood's wish list, and the industry’s chief lobby group, the Motion Picture Association of America, said the “landmark” deal will significantly boost U.S. exports to China overall.

It’s also a rare bright spot in a trade relationship that’s been a major battleground. The administration has repeatedly pressed Beijing to be more open to U.S. exports — especially by letting China’s currency rise — and do more to prevent piracy of movies and other intellectual property.

U.S. officials first complained to the World Trade Organization in 2007 about film import restrictions, and the WTO ruled in Washington's favor two years later.

Under the accord, U.S. filmmakers will be given new opportunities to distribute their films outside China’s state-run movie monopoly, will have better commercial terms for 3-D and other large-format films, and will reap a bigger share of the profit for films that are distributed by Chinese companies.

The market in question has been growing rapidly. Box office receipts last year topped $2 billion, U.S. officials said.

Chris Dodd, the association’s CEO, who visited Shanghai last June to press Hollywood’s case, said the agreement “will return a much better share of the box office revenues to U.S studios, revising a two-decade-old formula that kept those revenues woefully under normal commercial terms.” He estimated that Chinese audiences would see 50 percent more U.S. films.

Disney CEO Robert Iger added that the agreement is a “significant opportunity” in the world’s most populous nation.

Photo: Xi Jinping