Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Canada’s Cultural Organizations Hail Successful Conclusion of UNESCO Negotiations for Treaty on Cultural Diversity, Urge Its Adoption at October General Conference

Canadian Coalition for cultural diversity, Montréal, June 8, 2005 – 2005/06/08

In this news release, the Canadian Coalition states that the decision by UNESCO member states to recommend adoption of a draft international convention on cultural diversity at the UNESCO General Conference in October—despite intense opposition by the United States—is a significant victory in the campaign to entrench in international law the right of countries to develop cultural policies. «The proposed UNESCO convention—a treaty, in other words—represents a landmark achievement in the campaign to obtain recognition in international law for the principle that cultural goods and services are fundamentally different from other goods and services,” said Pierre Curzi, co-chair of the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity », stated Coalition co-chair Pierre Curzi, adding, « With very few exceptions, countries need to be able to use cultural policies such as national content quotas, subsidies, tax credits, and foreign ownership rules to ensure their citizens have access to their own culture. But trade agreements have been placing increasing pressure on countries to give up this right »

If Robert Pilon, the Coalition’s executive vice president, affirms that the convention represented a "historic achievement" in its recognition that cultural goods and services transcend their commercial dimension, but he notes that the convention did contain shortcomings reflecting the fact that it represented a first attempt by countries to agree on a treaty that recognizes the right of countries to have cultural policies. Pilon stated, «We would have preferred to see a binding dispute settlement mechanism, even if the mechanism that was adopted represents an important first step, and while we are pleased with language in the convention asserting it will not be subordinated to other treaties, we remain concerned about how the convention will relate to trade agreements in practical terms. Realistically, we believe it will take some years before this is clarified ».

 In fact, the official title of the proposed UNESCO convention is “The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions” If adopted at this October’s General Conference it will:

  • Recognize in international law the distinctive nature of cultural goods and services as vehicles of values, identity and meaning.
  • Clearly affirm of the right of countries to have cultural policies to ensure genuine diversity of cultural expressions domestically.
  • Include provisions by which developed countries undertake to support developing countries in nurturing the development of their own emerging cultural industries.
  • Assert the principle of non-subordination—meaning the legal status of the convention in international law will be equal to that of other international treaties, including trade agreements.
  • Commit countries to take the provisions of the convention into account not only when entering into other international agreements, but also when applying and interpreting agreements to which they are party.
  • Include a basic dispute settlement mechanism, creating the potential that in the years ahead the convention will accumulate a body of decisions on issues of cultural policy that will ultimately influence how culture is treated in trade agreements.

The news release also notes that the draft convention was approved by the vast majority of the 135 UNESCO member states that took part in negotiations, while it was strongly opposed by the United States, which pursued a "dilute and delay" strategy throughout the talks. On the final day of the negotiations, the United States delegation escalated their opposition, filing a formal motion attacking the legitimacy of the proposed convention and the process by which it was negotiated. Given this, the Coalition states: « The battle is not over—it is very clear that the United States will lobby hard to rally countries to their side between now and the General Conference. But we have a convention worth fighting for, and we urge Canada to do everything it can at the international level to ensure that the convention is adopted by an overwhelming majority in October. » [05-18]