Cultural diversity

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Negotiations to conclude a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union: Canadian members of parliament take the first steps towards securing cultural exemption

Recent debates between Canadian members of parliament showed elected officials' desire to protect Canada's cultural policies in the negotiations leading up to a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and European Union (CETA). Here are a few excerpts from the discussions in the House of Commons (Ottawa, Canada) on December 14.

Mrs. Carole Lavallée, MP for Saint-Bruno–Saint-Hubert, addressed the Minister of International Trade, Peter Van Loan, stating that "Canada and the European Union were among the first to support and then ratify this UNESCO convention. Should they not set an example, therefore, and […] agree to completely exempt culture from the trade agreement they are negotiating and include in the preamble to the agreement a reference to the UNESCO convention as a legal framework on which cultural exemptions could be based?"

Minister Van Loan was quick to reply, "The honorable member is quite right. Both Canada and the European Union share an interest in the UNESCO convention in protecting our cultural heritage.[…] I think both sides of the negotiation are on the same page, wanting to see culture legitimately protected. I believe that will be the basis of a Canada-European Union free trade agreement."

Echoing the Minister's sentiments, Kelowa–Lake Country MP Ron Cannan described the government's position as follows:

Canada and the European Union have also been leaders and worked closely together in the development and promotion of the UNESCO convention. Canada and the EU both share an ongoing commitment to the principles of the UNESCO convention, such as the need to maintain the policy space necessary to pursue cultural priorities and to foster cultural exchanges that promote the diversity of cultural expressions.

With respect to culture in the free trade negotiations with the European Union, the government remains committed to defending Canada's cultural interest and will exempt these areas from trade obligations. We believe that the EU will understand our need to take this approach as it has demonstrated a long-standing respect for the needs of countries to have the capacity to develop and implement cultural policy policies. […].

During the course of the negotiations with the European Union, the Government of Canada will continue to work with the provincial and territorial governments toward an outcome that would ensure that Canada's and the European Union's ability to pursue domestic cultural policy objectives related to cultural industries would remain unimpaired.

His statement was backed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, South Shore–St. Margaret's MP Gerald Keddy, who declared, "The purpose of including a cultural exemption, as it is in all of Canada's free trade agreements, every single one of them, is to ensure the maintenance of adequate flexibility to pursue domestic policy objectives. That is further backed up by the core objective for Canada, as it is again in all trade agreements, including and eventually the Canada-European Union comprehensive economic and trade agreement."

Keddy asked Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan six questions regarding certain aspects of these negotiations (e.g., full cultural exemption, the integrity of the Convention, cooperative agreements attached to the CETA). These topics will be discussed on January 31, 2011, within a Parliamentary committee (Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage). The Newsletter will report on these discussions in February.

The full text of the December 14 debate is available on the website of the Parliament of Canada.

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