Coalition Currents , Vol. 2, no. 6, October 2004 - 2004/10
A Bulletin by the Coalitions for Cultural Diversity takes a look at the first round of UNESCO negotiations on the preliminary draft convention on cultural diversity. According to the ILC-CCD Committee, the first round marked " was a watershed moment in the campaign to secure an international convention to protect the diversity of cultural contents and artistic expressions " . In the words of the meeting’s chair, the former South African Minister of Education M. Kader Asmal, “We have heard numerous interventions from Member States from all over the world as well as from NGOs and IGOs, The sheer number as well as the quality of these interventions bear witness to the relevance and importance of the subject at hand.” For the committee, the wide-ranging nature of the comments made regarding the text itself points to the challenge of developing broad support for a strong convention in time for it to be adopted at UNESCO’s 2005 General Conference.
A number of states “stressed the importance of tightening up wording with respect to the convention’s preamble, scope, objectives and principles,” a message reinforced by many others that emphasized “emphasizing the fundamental importance of securing a convention through this process that would affirm the sovereign right of all states to have cultural policies designed to ensure a space for domestic cultural creation and to promote a more balanced exchange of cultural contents and artistic expressions among states at the international level.” The committee also noted that the article addressing the convention’s relationship with other international agreements is the only instance where the experts group charged with drafting the text proposed two approaches: Option A and B. In the committee’s view, the outcome of this debate will be of enormous importance to cultural organizations from all countries, but particularly to those whose governments have previously made liberalization commitments affecting culture in trade agreements. While some states elected for one or the other option - including a significant number who expressed support for Option A - several states expressed a preference for developing a ‘third way’ of articulating the relationship of the convention to other international agreements
The committee also noted that with the November 15 deadline for UNESCO member states to file their written comments points to the importance of cultural organizations engaging in discussions with their national governments now to ensure they express support for the key elements of a strong convention. And in this regard, Asmal’s remarks underscored the importance of initiating discussions with their government through several channels - not only through with their minister of culture, but also their minister of foreign affairs and the minister responsible for international trade - and ideally, at the head of government or head of state level as well. Such a multi-pronged approach is all the more important given that the UNESCO process for developing the convention specifically provides for the World Trade Organization to give feedback on the draft convention. This means that national governments will also be asked to express their views regarding the convention via their ambassadors at the WTO. In fact, the committee warns that for cultural organizations seeking a strong convention - a convention that clearly affirms the sovereign right of states to have cultural policies, and a convention that is equal in status and not subordinated to WTO and other trade agreements - the importance of ensuring their countries deliver a consistent message on this question both through the WTO and UNESCO cannot be overstated.
The committee also recognizes that the September 20-24 meeting set the stage for a much more concentrated discussion at the end of January when the member states will meet for the second time, from January 31 to February 12. However, although Member States will gather for at least one more intergovernmental experts session in May-June of next year, the outcome of the second meeting in January-February should provide a better indication of where the UNESCO process is headed - both on the question of how strong the resulting convention stands to be, and whether support is coalescing rapidly enough for the convention to be adopted at the 2005 General Conference in October. (Available in French, English, Spanish)