Cultural diversity

The Diversity of Cultural Expressions

Vol. 5, no 22, Monday, July 11, 2005

Toward adoption of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO in October 2005: We must stay the course and keep up the pressure!


Press Releases, Speeches, and Declarations

Recent Publications


Press Releases, Speeches, and Declarations

The German Commission for UNESCO adopts a resolution calling on the German government to throw its support behind the adoption of the UNESCO draft Convention on Cultural Diversity

Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission, Bonn, 7. Juli 2005 – 2005/07/07

At its general assembly held July 6 and 7 in Bonn on the theme of cultural diversity and the universality of values, the German Commission for UNESCO adopted a resolution calling on the German government to throw its support behind the adoption of the draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at the UNESCO General Conference next October. It also called upon the government to move rapidly to ratify the convention once it had been adopted. [05-22]

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Signature of a new agreement: PAF and UNESCO formally reinforce their level of cooperation in order to contribute to the promotion of cultural diversity

UNESCO - APF, Paris, le 5 juillet 2005 – 2005/07/05

In the presence of ambassadors, permanent delegates, and members of the francophone group at UNESCO, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie (PAF) and UNESCO formally reinforced their level of cooperation on July 4 with the signature of a new agreement that complements the one signed by UNESCO and IOF (International Organization of the Francophonie) in December 2000. The goal of the new agreement is to “contribute to joint projects in such areas as the promotion of democracy and human rights, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, education and training, cultural and communication, and promotion of the status of women.”

Speaking on the occasion, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura drew attention to the importance that UNESCO places on cooperation with parliamentarians, whom it views as “permanent partners for action.” “Parliamentarians in all democratic societies are key actors in the political process […]. This is why UNESCO considers it crucial to establish close ties with them in order to ensure UNESCO ideals have fertile ground in which to take hold,” he declared. Mr. Matsuura expressed his satisfaction that the PAF session scheduled this week in Brussels would be devoted to cultural diversity, an issue at the heart of PAF concerns, as reflected in the declaration adopted in April by the PAF Commission for Education, Communication, and Cultural Affairs. As he pointed out, “There is no doubt that this represents a major area of cooperation for our two institutions… cultural diversity encompasses multiple aspects that UNESCO has an obligation to preserve by any means possible.”

Specifically evoking the question of cultural content and artistic expression, Mr. Matsuura pointed out the importance of the work undertaken by the intergovernmental experts in order to prepare the preliminary draft convention which will be submitted to the general Conference of UNESCO, in October 2005: “During the process,” said the Director-General, the governmental experts had shown themselves to be “sensitive to the spirit of fellowship, dialog and multi-polar exchange” as they sought to “find the meeting point between the demands of free circulation and access; of equal dignity of, and respect for, all cultures; of open-mindedness and equilibrium; and of international solidarity and cooperation, by highlighting the duality of cultural activities, goods, and services in their economic and cultural dimensions.” The result was a text that was “rich and generous, proposing a set of measures designed as much to promote as to protect the diversity of cultural expressions.” However, noting that “on certain key clauses, it has not been possible to reach a consensus,” Mr. Matsuura expressed the hope that “in the months between now and the time of the General Conference, these differences can be ironed out so that satisfactory wording can be found for all articles.” “It would be most regrettable were those countries that have recorded reservations on some of the key clauses of this convention finally to decide not to support it, given its crucial importance and urgency for the protection and promotion of cultural diversity. I can therefore only hope that one more attempt is made to allow culture to unleash its full unifying force and succeed in producing a consensus.”

PAF president and president of the National Assembly of Niger, Mahamane Ousmane, expressed his satisfaction with the agreement formalizing PAF-UNESCO cooperation and stressed the importance of the draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. “The cultural, economic, and political stakes are high, for it is but a short step from cultural homogenization to ideological homogenization, a step some appear determined to make—and quickly. We are not among them,” he reaffirmed. The permanent delegates from Canada, Lebanon, and Switzerland also praised the strong relations UNESCO has developed with the Francophonie, and especially with APF. They reiterated their commitment to cultural diversity and their hopes that the draft convention—a priority for the member countries of the Francophonie—be adopted during the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference. [05-22]

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The contribution of the Francophonie to cultural diversity in the globalization movement

Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF), Paris, le 4 juillet 2005 – 2005/07/04

Parliamentarians gathered at the 21st session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie (PAF) from July 4 to 9, 2005 in Brussels to debate the theme “the contribution of the Francophonie to cultural diversity in the globalization movement.” The session was attended by IOF president Abdou Diouf and 200 parliamentarians—including 25 assembly presidents and vice presidents—from 45 parliaments. A Quai d'Orsay press release reported that France’s minister for cooperation, development, and the Francophonie, Brigitte Girardin, delivered a speech at the session on the strengthening of cultural diversity and the place of French in European institutions. The press released emphasized that France has consistently fought at the international level for recognition of the distinctive nature of cultural goods and services, a cornerstone of the recognition of cultural diversity.

A press kit put together by PAF declares that in the “combat for cultural diversity […] the Francophonie, a laboratory for cultural diversity due to its vocation and its geographical and economic makeup, has drawn on its specific development-related expertise to structure and reinforce its initiatives in favor of cultural diversity.” It has made the defense of cultural diversity a priority, recommending that the IOF Summit of Heads of State and Government “approve the principle of an international convention on cultural diversity under the auspices of a body specifically mandated to promote culture.” PAF urged IOF heads of state and government to “exercise utmost vigilance to ensure that all member states preserve the right to conserve and develop their own cultural policies, including the right to implement measures to support the cultural sector, including the audiovisual, film, and publishing industries.” PAF had adopted a previous resolution at the 2003 Charlottetown Session (Prince Edward Island) urging member states and governments of the Francophonie to refrain from making any WTO commitments to liberalizing trade in cultural goods and services and to honor the resolution in their bilateral and regional trade agreements. It also invited member states and governments to notify parliamentarians and the PAF about trade negotiations affecting cultural products and called upon IOF to pursue cooperation and maintain lines of communication with PAF so as to maximize the impact of Francophone mobilization in defense of cultural diversity.

To this effect, PAF is committed to promoting a strong convention that clearly asserts the right of states to implement cultural policy, rather than a document that is purely declaratory. The Brussels session was the occasion to clearly reaffirm this aim. It is “through such an instrument that the Francophonie will be able to continue supporting francophone cultural production—particularly the extremely rich and diverse production of the South—as a source of mutual enrichment, rapprochement between peoples, peace, and sustainable development.” According to PAF, “the diversity of this cultural creation, one of the cornerstones of the Francophonie, is a public good that should be promoted in this era of globalization and standardization. It is simply a matter of acknowledging the right of all states, Northern or Southern, to promote the performing arts, audiovisual productions, cultural enterprises, and the circulation of artists and their works.” PAF stresses that “defending cultural diversity is a way to combat a purely industrial conception of culture by taking into account its global and strategic dimensions: This is what affords it a political dimension, making it something on which all parliamentarians from the global francophone community are determined to have their say.”

Drawing attention to the huge cultural, economic, and political implications, PAF also points out that “certain bilateral agreements as well as international talks on trade in services—particularly the WTO Doha and Hong Kong rounds—are likely to jeopardize the capacity of governments to intervene in matters of culture. The United States, to name but one, has signed several free trade agreements that compromise the ability of governments to adopt measures in support of their national cultural policies and industries.” [05-22]

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Canada releases revised offer in WTO services negotiations that excludes any commitment to broaden access to cultural markets

International Trade Canada, Ottawa, June 20, 2005 – 2005/06/20

In the context of the current market access phase of negotiations of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), WTO members agreed to submit revised market access offers by May 31, 2005. In accordance with this declaration, Canada has submitted its revised offer, which builds upon the initial offer that Canada tabled on March 31, 2003, as well as Canada’s initial requests in WTO services negotiations, released in July 2002, and Canada’s initial position in the GATS, made public in March 2001.

Like Canada’s initial GATS offer, the revised offer outlines what further improvements Canada is prepared to offer other countries in exchange for greater access to their service markets, and the document outlines how Canada is prepared to open access to its markets in exchange for greater access to foreign markets for services. As with Canada’s initial offer, Canada’s revised offer takes into account the market access requests made by Canada’s WTO trading partners, and devotes particular attention to the market access requests made by developing and least-developed countries.

Like all offers in the negotiations, Canada’s revised offer is conditional on the overall level of liberalization that is achieved at the end of the negotiations. This means that Canada retains the right to add, remove or modify any element of its offer until a final agreement that meets Canada’s objectives is reached. GATS also allows countries to determine which services will be delivered through public services. In this regard, in its revised GATS offer, Canada proposes improved market access commitments in the following areas: temporary movement of business people; professional services; transport services; financial services; exemptions to the Most Favored Nation (MFN) principle; commercial presence; tourism services; and courier services.

However, Canada’s new offer reaffirms that health, public education, social services, and culture will not be included in its agreement: “Our offer clearly indicates that Canada’s public services are not up for negotiation,” said minister Peterson. Indeed, Canada’s revised offer does not include any commitments for health, public education and social services, or culture. [05-22]

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Recent Publications

“Culture: A single solution—the cultural exception”

Alternatives internationales, Juillet-août 2005 – p. 36-39 – 2005/07-08

Monthly magazine Alternatives internationales has published a feature issue on culture under the evocative title: “Demain, tous américains?” (Will we all be Americans tomorrow?). The special issue looks at topics like the cultural identity of peoples, concentration in the cultural industry, global domination by the majors, and the threat to artistic pluralism posed by profit-driven market logic. It explains “good reasons for being afraid”: the flood of American TV and the invasion of “Planet Globalwood.” The seven articles on culture also include an interview by Sandrine Tolotti with Jean-Michel Baer, adviser to the president of Arte and former director of culture and audiovisual at the European Commission, and Jean-Pierre Warnier, professor of ethnology at Université Paris V, in which they affirm that the only viable solution for culture is the exception.

Asked whether the adoption of the draft convention by UNESCO member states means that cultural pluralism is under threat from globalization, they warn that the pluralism of artistic expression could be severely undermined by the capitalist logic taking hold in the cultural industry. “‘Market logic’ channels investments to productions expected to turn a profit at the expense of sectors and works with less immediate economic prospects—with everything that this entails in terms of standardization […]. Yet cultural goods are not products like any other. The economic theory of comparative advantage […] that underlies free trade and the WTO makes no sense when applied to culture.”

Moreover, in this era of globalization, they point out that the issue of culture is first and foremost a matter of global politics. Over the course of the past decade or more, the “cultural exception” has emerged as the dividing line between two conceptions. The first, initially championed in Europe, has won over the vast majority of countries on the planet: Culture must be exempt from ordinary trade law. The second is incarnated by the United States, which is largely isolated on this issue: Culture is a commodity like any other.” During the final phase of the Uruguay Round trade negotiations in 1993, American representatives demanded that liberalization be extended to the audiovisual sector. The European Union played a key role in blocking this “commodification” of culture, which would have had devastating consequences for audiovisual promotion and support mechanisms. But as the authors point out, the U.S. never misses an opportunity to pick up the fight, and the combat is intense at the WTO, where talks on the next phase of liberalization in trade in services are underway. “The EU has made no offers to liberalize the audiovisual sector and has not filed any request in this sense with its partners. But even though 130 of the 148 WTO member countries share the view that culture is not a commodity, the EU has nonetheless received requests for liberalization in the audiovisual sector from countries like Brazil, China, India, Mali, Peru, Jordan, Korea, Taiwan, and Mexico. “It is time,” say the authors, “to ask whether we want UNESCO to do something useful.”

However, they observe that more and more voices are speaking out for cultural diversity within governments and civil society alike. It is this support that has led to the draft convention, “the challenge being to confront the hegemony of a liberalized market and of local authorities with little respect for minorities or freedom of information to ensure that the world’s peoples enjoy free access to cultural goods.” They add that the draft convention adopted on June 3 holds out considerable promise, even though the United States, in its anger, will do everything it can between now and the October General Conference to secure amendments, […] particularly to article 20, which stipulates that the UNESCO convention is not subordinate to other treaties. In other words, cultural diversity will benefit from a legal instrument that shelters cultural policy from all attempts at liberalization.”

At the same time, the authors argue that the defense of cultural diversity is not a new form of protectionism in disguise. States may conserve the right to forge cultural policy, but the battle over content and the significance of cultural diversity has yet to be waged. There can be no future for cultural diversity without exchange, intercultural dialog, and sharing. “The nations of the South do not always understand the European position, and often view the diversity issue as smokescreen that the rich nations hide behind to protect their markets. If we do nothing to prove them otherwise, many will succumb to the siren song of bilateral trade negotiations with the U.S. and open up their cultural markets in exchange for American investment.” [05-22]

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Trade and Culture: U.S. Senate endorses free trade deal with six Central American countries that covers all sectors including the culture

Le Nouvel Observateur, édition du 5 juillet 2005 – 2005/07/05

In this edition, Le Nouvel Observateur cites an Associated Press dispatch reporting on a June 30 vote in the U.S. Senate to endorse, with the backing of President Bush, a new free trade agreement between the United States and six Central American counties. According to the White House, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) will further open a market of 44 million consumers to U.S. products and “promote democracy, security and prosperity in a part of the world once characterized by oppression and military dictatorship.” The deal inked by U.S. leaders last year with Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic covers all sectors and will gradually eliminate customs barriers between the signatory nations over the course of the coming decade. It is the sixth FTA signed by the United States, after NAFTA (Canada, Mexico, U.S.A.), and bilateral agreements with Israel, Jordan, Chile, and Singapore.

In a report to the International Agency of the Francophonie (AIF) on June 18, 2004, Centre études internationales et mondialisation and Institut d’études internationales de Montréal at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), asserted that these recent free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by the United States affect the signatory countries’ ability to implement cultural policy. In their conclusion, the authors of the report stressed that the main consequence of these recent FTAs is to severely restrict the array of measures that states have at their disposal to protect their national cultures. “For the countries in question—and by extension the international community—it comes down to being forced to pay to protect cultural diversity. But most of the world’s nations have limited financial resources for promoting and defending their cultures in the face of globalization. Our conclusions bode ill for ongoing efforts to develop an international convention on cultural diversity. It therefore appears crucial that OIF, in its efforts to promote cultural diversity, put even more emphasis on the importance of maintaining, and even strengthening, national regulatory measures on behalf of culture.” (For a synthesis of this report, see our Bulletin of Tuesday September 7, 2004 ).

In a similar vein, Mr. Ivan Bernier, emeritus professor at Université Laval’s Faculty of Law in Québec, Canada, and UNESCO’s independent expert appointed to develop the preliminary draft convention, underlines in a study that the recent free trade agreements (FTAs) concluded by the United States with Chile, Singapore, the Central American States, Australia, and Morocco “mark a new development in the way the United States envisage the treatment of cultural goods and services in trade agreements.” Its analysis of these FTAs reveals that they do have a significant impact in the cultural sector and that they are part of a strategy by the United States to insure that digital networks remain free of cultural protectionism. [05-22]

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