Cultural diversity

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European trade negotiations with Canada and the U.S.: José Manuel Barroso responds to the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity

The French Coalition for Cultural Diversity wrote to the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, on July 20, 2012, requesting that "in conjunction with ongoing European Union trade negotiations with Canada and [negotiations expected to begin in 2013] the U.S., a strong stance be adopted as quickly as possible with regard to the exclusion of cultural and audiovisual services, regardless of the medium."

On the subject of negotiations between the European Union and Canada over the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the French Coalition underscored that:

"While audiovisual services are horizontally excluded from this agreement, which pleases us, according to our sources cultural services are not subject to a general exclusion as Canada requested."

As regards the agreement with the U.S., the French Coalition expressed the following concerns:

"Our concern is not only with cultural services […], but also—and especially—with audiovisual services as a whole, whether they are delivered in the traditional manner or via new information and communication technologies."

"Given the importance of the audiovisual sector in the American economy and recent moves by the U.S.—at both the bilateral (adoption of common ICT principles by U.S. and European Union) and multilateral level (primarily with OECD)—we are concerned that upcoming free trade agreement negotiations may include a demand to include audiovisual services, notably for new media.

In this respect, the French Coalition has noted that the inclusion of cultural and audiovisual services in negotiations with Canada and the U.S. would contravene the values of the European Union, that such negotiations "shall be conducted with Canada or the U.S., [and] would also constitute a violation of EU law, the UNESCO Convention being fully integrated into the European legal framework as the Court of Justice of the European Union stressed in its UTECA judgment of March 5, 2009." 

In its response of October 26, 2012, President Barroso’s cabinet indicated, with regard to CETA negotiations, that "the two parties agree […] that it is necessary to protect and promote cultural diversity, especially for audiovisual services, while ensuring at the same time an ambitious agreement that culminates in a higher level of economic integration."  The cabinet emphasized that "the EU and Canada have […] diverging viewpoints with respect to the definition and scope of cultural services." Basically, "for Canada, the concept of ‘cultural service’ includes generic activities such as distribution, advertising, or even certain commercial activities in the area of telecommunications," a perspective that the EU does not share. President Barroso’s cabinet further mentioned that "Canada has excluded cultural goods and services from any commitment," adding that the EU does not embrace this position that "would also deprive EU investors—who may have legitimately invested in such sectors—of investment protection guarantees set forth in CETA." The cabinet explained that "insofar as [investments in the cultural service sector] nevertheless occur, the EU will do its best to ensure that they receive the same treatment as any other investor."

In terms of the agreement with the U.S., the cabinet indicated that "at this relatively early stage in the discussions, the emphasis has been on identifying general principles and objectives likely to generate further advantages for trans-Atlantic business relations, rather than on specific questions involving sectors." In addition, the cabinet affirmed that "the Commission is fully aware of the major role that the audiovisual sector plays within the EU. It is also assessing the importance that the Member States place on the ability to conserve, adopt, and implement policies and measures for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions within their boundaries [and] will do its utmost to ensure that these rights are protected in any future agreement with the U.S."

To read the letter from the French Coalition and the response from President Barroso’s cabinet, please go to the website of the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity.