Cultural diversity

Publications and Studies

The relationship between the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and other international instruments: the emergence of a new balance in the interface between business and culture, by Ivan Bernier

“Although Section V of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which addresses the Convention’s relationship to other instruments, only contains two articles (20 and 21), it is undeniably the section that caused the greatest debate during negotiations. Its composition was the source of lively debate at the Plenary Session and the Task Force created by those sessions in order to reach a consensus on the question of relationships that would be established between the Convention and other international tools. Many of the basic problems that arose during these negotiations were in one way or another related to issues of relationships between the Convention and other instruments. It is no surprise, therefore, that the final texts of articles 20 and 21 were adopted at the very end of the negotiations.

Two opposing visions divided the States. Seeing in the preliminary draft a veiled attempt at removing the field of culture from the concerns of the World Trade Organization (WTO), certain countries expressed a desire to have it expressly stipulated in the future convention that trade commitments take precedence over all other commitments in cultural matters. But for the vast majority of States, cultural goods and services, being the basis of identity, values, and meaning, could not be considered trade or consumption goods like any other. In their eyes, culture must have a legitimate place next to the other concerns of the WTO. Reaching a consensus meant ensuring that the text of the official Convention clearly established that there was no relation of subordination between itself and other international agreements. In other words, a new balance was required between trade and culture.

These seemingly irreconcilable positions made for tricky legal work. As we will see, the final adopted text contains a certain amount of ambiguity, but faithfully reflects the will of the vast majority of States to exclude any type of subordination between the Convention and other treaties to which they are parties, without compromising any other commitments they have made.

In the following pages, we will begin by analyzing the content of Article 20, entitled “Relationship to other treaties: mutual supportiveness, complementarity and non-subordination,” in order to highlight its progressive character. We will then turn our attention to Article 21, entitled “International consultation and coordination,” which supplements Article 20 by stipulating that Parties must “promote the objectives and principles of the Convention in other international forums” and “consult each other, as appropriate, bearing in mind these objectives and principles.” We will be exploring in particular the role of the Intergovernmental Committee and considering the procedures and other mechanisms that could be implemented to meet these commitments.

The French version of this study can be consulted on our website. English, Spanish, and Arabic versions are being prepared and will be available by the end of August.