Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

The new UNESCO convention on cultural diversity: A counterbalance to the WTO? – 2006/08/08

The Journal of International Economic Law just published in its August 8th edition a paper written by Mr. Christoph Beat Graber (Professor of Law, University of Lucerne, Switzerland) in which he questions himself if the new UNESCO Convention on the diversity of cultural expressions can be served as a cultural counterbalance to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In this paper, where he underlines the ambitious role assigned to the Convention by its proponents - to fill an existing lacuna for cultural objectives in public international law and to serve as a cultural counterbalance to the World Trade Organization in future conflicts between trade and culture – the author endeavours to explain how cultural diversity has become an issue of international law, provides a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the Convention and explores in particular the possible linkages between the Convention and the WTO.

According to the author, the adoption of the new Convention is of the utmost significance with a view to potential conflicts between trade and culture arising in the WTO framework. Although the Convention does not impose enforceable responsibilities on the Contracting Parties, it may be seen as a first step towards the achievement of a more coherent international legal order, where not only economic but also other societal values, such as cultural diversity, are taken seriously. There is an opportunity for the Convention to be used as a point of reference when the definition of boundaries between trade and culture is discussed in future WTO trade negotiations or dispute settlement procedures. This potential is however not a given but needs to be developed and strengthened, both by affirmative action of the Convention Parties and within the WTO structure.

Hence, the author thinks that it is very important, as a first step, that all signatories to the Convention build the necessary political momentum to speed up the ratification process to allow the Convention not only to come into force but also subsequently to play its intended role as a counterbalance to the WTO in matters of artistic and cultural expressions.