Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions – RIDC statement

Garry Neil, Directeur général du RIDC, 3 juin 2005 – 2005/06/03

The International Network for Cultural Diversity (INCD) stated its position on the text of the draft convention adopted at the third UNESCO session of the intergovernmental meeting of experts, which wrapped up on June 3 in Paris and which will be put before the General Conference in October 2005 for approval. In its report prepared in this matter, Mr. Garry Neil, INCD Executive Director, underlines that “In the final days of the Intergovernmental Committee, delegates achieved a broad consensus around the remaining elements of the proposed convention,” in fact: Relationship to Other Treaties; Dispute Settlement; Preferential Treatment; Cultural Development Fund. At the concluding session, he continued, the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Chile, Argentina, and Turkey registered a formal reservation about the provisions of Article 20. Various combinations of these states registered reservations about other elements of the text, particularly in relation to seeking that certain rights in the convention should be “subject to existing international obligations.” The United States expressed a reservation about “the entire text” (and) delivered an aggressive final statement, outlining concerns about the process used by the Chair and about the outcome. The U.S. claimed that the Convention “exceeds the mandate of UNESCO,” and threatens to “set back progress toward economic liberalization that has done so much to increase prosperity.” It concluded that the U.S. “still hopes there remains a possibility to achieve a truly consensus convention worthy of UNESCO.”

According to INCD, “if it is approved and ratified, the convention is a strong statement of the sovereign right of states to implement cultural policies. It clearly enunciates that cultural goods and services have a cultural as well as commercial value and it has an intriguing provision that provides that states will use the convention when they are interpreting other treaties. It also provides some positive models for international cooperation.” However, notes INCD, “to be an effective counterbalance to the trade and investment agreements, it would need also to contain obligations on member states to take actions to promote cultural diversity within their own territories and internationally, and commitments by states to exercise these rights in conformity with principles such as opening their markets to cultural goods and services from countries of the South. The obligations and commitments in the convention are, at best, modest.” Moreover, INCD is also disappointed states failed to assume concrete commitments to support the development of cultural capacity and creative industries. The language provides only that states “shall endeavor” to do certain things.

In a preceding report (Bulletin no. 5, May 2005), which the INDC editor suggests reading in conjunction with this report, Mr. Neil affirmed that the convention falls short of the objectives adopted by the INCD “While it will confirm the sovereign right of states to implement cultural policies, it will not balance this right with significant concrete obligations. The only limits on the right are the (very significant) need to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and to respect the principle of “openness and balance.” The scope of the convention is limited to policies that have a direct effect on cultural expressions, rather than incorporating those that might have an indirect effect, even if this is intended. The clauses on international cooperation, with the exception of the disputed Article 16, remain as obligations that states “shall endeavor to;” in other words, states have only to try to do the things outlined. Similarly, states will not even commit unequivocally to take action to protect a form of cultural expression that is at risk of extinction in its territory. Finally, there are no obligations to support domestic artists and creators.” He observed, “If it continues, this erosion of substantive obligations may well result in a convention that cannot possibly be equivalent to the trade and investment agreements, because it merely has the effect of reaffirming the sovereign rights of states to do whatever they want in the cultural field. If there are no limits on these rights, or mandatory obligations, there is no basis for any dispute (…). On balance, the convention would seem to be a rather weak shield against continuing pressure in the multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations to eliminate or amend policies and measures which promote a diversity of cultural choices. Accordingly, it is now time for the cultural diversity movement to step back and consider whether the convention has value as a political tool. While it has not achieved the outcome we had hoped for, is there sufficient benefit in confirming the right of states to implement cultural policies to justify organizing a campaign to have it approved and ratified? Will the convention be a useful organizing tool in the ongoing work? Can it become a rallying point for civil society groups and governments that remain concerned about how the trade and investment agreements are being used to stifle cultural policies and local artists and cultural producers?” The INCD is now carefully reviewing the final text and will provide a complete analysis as soon as possible, concluded Mr. Neil. [05-23]