Cultural diversity

Publications and Studies

Trade Treaties and Cultural Diversity

van Bernier, Simposio internacional, Santiago, Chili, 28-29 juin 2005 – 2005/06/28-29

In this study presented within the framework of Simposio internacional "Diversidad cultural : el valor de la diferencia" which was held in Santiago of Chile the 28 and last 29 June, Mr. Ivan Bernier, an emeritus professor at Université Laval Faculty of Law in Québec, and the one of the independent experts appointed by the UNESCO Director-General to develop the preliminary draft Convention on the Protection of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions questions whether “the draft Convention approved at the third session of the international meeting of government experts held in Paris from May 25 to June 3, 2005, is one whose ultimate goal is to bar culture from WTO talks or whether it is essentially cultural and aimed not at modifying WTO rights, but rather providing a framework, guidelines, and a forum for all states that see the protection and promotion of distinct cultural expressions and the preservation of cultural diversity in a broader sense as key components of globalization.” To answer this question, he examines how cultural diversity is addressed in trade treaties and UNESCO’s draft convention because, in his view, a large part of the problem consists of the fact that cultural goods and services, which are both objects of trade and vectors of identity, can be viewed in two markedly different ways.

Placing the issue in context, he notes that the final wording of the draft convention—which the representatives of over 130 countries approved virtually unanimously at the closing of this third and final meeting and recommended that it be adopted by the General Conference at its 33rd session in October 2005—was vigorously denounced by the United States, which went so far as to say in a statement released by its embassy in Paris that the wording of the proposed convention was deeply flawed because it addressed trade rather than culture. For this reason, the matter was out of UNESCO’s jurisdiction and its adoption could jeopardize UNESCO’s reputation as a responsible international body.

According to Mr. Bernier, we should not be surprised by the U.S.’s reaction: “In the leadup to the adoption of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, the U.S.—though not a UNESCO member at the time—was already working hard to fight “the efforts of France and Canada in view of removing cultural issues from WTO talks and gaining support for its idea of a ‘new instrument’ possibly housed within UNESCO. We also know,” he continues, “that the U.S. was unwillingly brought onboard only after the General Conference decided in October 2003 to start talks to draft a convention on the protection of the diversity of cultural contents and artistic expressions, and was not at all convinced of this convention’s value. Throughout the talks, the U.S.’s behavior clearly indicated that it would not ratify a convention of this nature. We therefore have no reason to be surprised by its rejection of the draft convention approved by the plenary assembly. The two sections of the text address this problem: Trade treaties, or cultural diversity as a roadblock to trade talks, and The UNESCO draft convention, or cultural diversity as an end in itself.

In conclusion, Mr. Bernier proposes an answer to the U.S.’s argument that the draft convention approved at the 3rd session of the international meeting of government experts is above all trade-oriented. We must “stress the fact the convention is truly a cultural convention, one that is under UNESCO’s jurisdiction and which surely includes the cultural repercussions of globalization and the liberalization of trade, unless we assign the WTO the role of a supra-organization that defines the jurisdiction of all other international organizations, an idea that is more and more open to debate.” [05-28]