Speaking to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on January 31, the minister of international trade, Mr. Peter Van Loan, reaffirmed the Canadian government’s intention to seek a general exemption for cultural industries in Canada-European Union comprehensive economic trade agreement (CETA) negotiations. The minister drew parallels with Canada’s commitment to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and his position in favor of a cultural exemption in trade agreements. He then answered a number of questions. Two themes in particular emerged from the ensuing discussions: the cultural exemption sought after by Canada in CETA negotiations and the European Union’s position demanding that the publishing industry be opened up. The following are excerpts from the Minister Van Loan’s remarks. We invite you to consult the complete transcript now available online.
« […]We've also been a global leader in developing and implementing policies and conventions of the United Nations, including the United Nations Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. As you know, the convention recognizes the importance of cultural diversity issues to international social and economic development. It gives countries like Canada the right to adopt policies and measures to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions.»
« I can assure the members of this committee, and all Canadians, that any trade agreement we conclude with the European Union will preserve our respective abilities to pursue domestic cultural policy objectives. Our government remains squarely committed to defending our cultural interests—including in all our trade agreements. » […]
« In substance we're seeking full exemption. I don't think that's on the table. Everything is on the table, in theory, because it's a broad negotiation, but we are seeking the full cultural exemption, and we're quite confident we will obtain full protection for Canadian cultural industries. » […]
« The one area they are raising is the issue of the support we provide for the publishing industry through various programs. Their concerns there would be either that they have access to the same kind of support or that we not be able to provide that support for publishing industries. The position we are taking in the negotiations is that we wish to be able to continue those programs and have them covered by an exemption so that we can support our publishing industry and Canadian culture in that fashion. » […]
« […],there's only one narrow issue on which the EU is making a substantive ask on culture, and that is the issue of subsidies or programs to support publishing. » […]
« We are obviously of the view, from the position we take, that something that would compromise those programs or end them would have an adverse impact on our publishing industry. That's why we take the position that we wish to maintain the programs and are holding that position in the negotiations. […] ».
As well, on February 7, 2011, the executive director of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity and the general secretary of the International Federation of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, Mr. Charles Vallerand, appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to discuss culture in CETA Canada - EU negotiations. Mr. Vallerand began by linking the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions to the negotiations to Canada-EU negotiations in the following terms:
« Our specific focus today is to ensure the UNESCO Convention be given its full legal and political weight with regard to other international mechanisms. The original idea behind the Convention was to develop a completely fresh legal mechanism to offset and frame the specific and special situation of culture, which is a commodity or a service with a recognized commercial value but also, and more importantly, a cultural value. What is required now is to develop the legal value and the jurisprudence. These trade negotiations are so important because the Canadian Government has, right from the outset, clearly focused on developing an extensive, broad modern trading relationship with a significant economic partner. […] ».
« We are following the talks with great interest because it would be unfortunate to see the gains made through the Convention negotiated away or weakened by a potential free-trade agreement. »
He also emphasized in his introduction that the status of culture in these negotiations had yet to be agreed on:
« Unfortunately, it is clear that the talks are continuing and have now reached a critical point in the negotiation of issues yet to be resolved. Culture remains on the table. Obviously, reaching an agreement on a cultural exemption with the European Union is not as easy as might have been imagined. […] ».
« […] We are aware of the challenges. We realize that the European Union and its negotiators have a different view of the cultural exemption and therefore, have to ask questions to understand our position and how it would apply across the agreement. The Europeans are asking some surprising questions given that the European Union and 26 of its 27 member states have ratified the UNESCO Convention. They are committed to diversity of expressions. Why are they asking these questions about the cultural exemption when Canada’s practice and approach have been well known for the past 20 years? They have requested clarification. Let’s hope that Canada is able to provide sufficiently reassuring clarification to coax the Europeans into signing an agreement. We have offered our co-operation and expertise in providing comprehensive answers to issues raised by our European counterparts.
We believe that just because the European Union is asking questions, does not mean that we should change our position or rush into an agreement just for the sake of it. Quite the opposite in fact. Canada has shown great leadership and must continue to do so. »
We invite you to consult the complete transcript now available online.