Cultural diversity

Publications and Studies

WTO - UNESCO, Which complementarity for which cultural diversity ?

Service Études de l’ARP (Auteur, réalisateur, producteur), Paris, 10 octobre 2005- 2005/10/10

 "WTO - UNESCO, Which complementarity for which cultural diversity?" This is theme of the debate organized as part of the Beaune Film Forum to be held from October 21 to 23 in France. This debate, which will be led by the president of the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity, Mr. Pascal Rogard, will be attended by French culture and communication minister Renaud Donnedieu de  Vabres, Motion Picture Association of America-MPAA president and CEO Dan Glickman, European Union negotiator at UNESCO and WTO Julien Guerrier, Mr. Jean Musitelli, who is a member of the independent group of experts charged with drawing up the draft UNESCO convention on cultural diversity, as well as filmmaker and founding member of the Moroccan Coalition for Cultural Diversity Nabil Ayouch.

“In an increasingly globalized world, it is essential to protect the uniqueness of cultural policies. As yet, the protection of this freedom was only discussed within the WTO, an organization not that inclined to take the uniqueness of cultural goods into account, and which prefers to liberalize the trade of all goods and services (including audiovisual services). Yet recent UNESCO talks on the draft of an international Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions have indicated a strong desire to protect and promote the uniqueness of cultural goods in international law. How will these two authorities (UNESCO and WTO) reach an agreement? How can their complementarity be ensured? What sources of tension will there be?” These are the questions that the authors of this preparatory note by the ARP Study Department try to resolve in describing a globalized world in the process of regulating cultural trade.

Summarizing the debate, the authors affirm that subsidy measures are generally not very effective, especially when the state budget devoted to culture is limited. Yet the U.S. has denounced the regulatory approach (e.g., broadcasting quotas) designed to promote local cultural industries while maintaining key provisions regarding electronic trade, an area in which they enjoy an unquestionable lead and whose impact on culture is increasing.

Given this, the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions is a new tool to promote cultural diversity. Today, as the authors state, culture enjoys hybrid status within the WTO, since, under trade law, there is no reference (values, principles, purposes) and no prescriptive text, even though culture is part of WTO’s sphere of implementation as a marketable good or service. An international draft Convention on Cultural Diversity within UNESCO has gradually asserted itself on the international scene as a way to break this status quo. For the first time, culture would no longer be seen as an afterthought (an exception or exemption), but rather as something to be promoted. It would also mark the first time that an international legal instrument would be devoted to culture in order to make it more than a footnote in trade talks. And for the first time as well, culture would be discussed within a dedicated forum, UNESCO, without diminishing in any way its trade significance.

But what about the relationship between the WTO and UNESCO? ask the authors. They state that the Convention on Cultural Diversity would lose much of its legal effectiveness if it had to yield to other international conventions. For this reason, the Convention is as legally binding as other international treaties. According to the authors, the Convention will have real added value internationally only if an active policy to promote cultural diversity(which is not the only power states have) is set up after the Convention is ratified. The scales—with trade on one side and culture on the other—will balance only when the Convention truly has made the promotion of cultural diversity the focus of international relations.

Until then, the authors say, the fight is not over. It is obvious that the regulation and liberalization of trade is the cornerstone of the global regulation process, with relations between states seen exclusively in terms of trade. The challenge is therefore to strike a new balance by introducing a process of development and cultural exchange.