Cultural diversity

The Diversity of Cultural Expressions

Vol. 5, no 31, Monday, October 24, 2005

UNESCO adopts the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in a plenary session at its 33rd General Conference


Press Releases, Speeches, and Declarations


Press Releases, Speeches, and Declarations

Cultural diversity now considered a “common heritage of humanity” and its “defense as an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity”

UNESCO, Paris, October 20, 2005 – 2005/10/20

Applause rang out on October 20 as representatives of 154 states attending the Plenary Session of the 33rd UNESCO General Conference cheered the adoption of the Report of Commission IV and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions . It is a “great day for UNESCO (…). The international community now has of a new legal instrument that is equal, not subordinate, in status to other treaties (…). It is the result of a vast consensus and of efforts by groups of French, Portuguese, and Spanish-speaking states (…). The guiding principles of the convention address all the reserves and caveats that have been expressed (…). We, the 150 countries who voted for the Convention, will now undertake the ratification and implementation process,” declared Canada’s ambassador to UNESCO, Mr. Yvon Charbonneau.

A UNESCO press release issued the same day reported, “The General Conference of UNESCO, meeting in Paris from October 3 to October 21, today approved (148 votes for, two against, four abstentions) the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, an international normative instrument that will enter into force three months after its ratification by 30 states. The result of a long process of maturation and two years of intense negotiations, punctuated by numerous meetings of independent and then governmental experts, this text which takes the form of an international normative instrument, reinforces the idea already included in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, unanimously adopted in 2001, that cultural diversity must be considered as a ‘common heritage of humanity,’ and its ‘defense as an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity.’ In 2003, member states requested the organization to pursue its normative action to defend human creativity, a vital component of the Declaration, as explained in articles eight and eleven.”

According to the release, “the Convention seeks to reaffirm the links between culture, development and dialog and to create an innovative platform for international cultural cooperation; to this end, it reaffirms the sovereign right of states to elaborate cultural policies ‘to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions’ and ‘to create the conditions for cultures to flourish and to freely interact in a mutually beneficial manner’ (Article 1). At the same time, a series of Guiding Principles (Article 2) guarantees that all measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions not hinder respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms ‘such as freedom of expression, information and communication, as well as the ability of individuals to choose (them)…’ As well, the ‘principle of openness and balance’ ensures that when states adopt measures in favor of the diversity of cultural expressions ‘they should seek to promote, in an appropriate manner, openness to other cultures of the world.’”

According to adopted Convention, “the rights and obligations of Parties (Articles 5 to 11) include a series of policies and measures aimed at protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions, approaching creativity and all it implies in the context of globalization, where diverse expressions are circulated and made accessible to all via cultural goods and services. Thus, Parties, recognizing the fundamental role of civil society, will seek to create an environment that encourages individuals and social groups ‘to create, produce, disseminate, distribute, and have access to their own cultural expressions, paying due attention to the special circumstances and needs of women as well as various social groups, including persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples,’ and ‘to recognize the important contribution of artists, others involved in the creative process, cultural communities, and organizations that support their work, and their central role in nurturing the diversity of cultural expressions.’”

UNESCO stressed in particular that “international promotion and cooperation, especially in the case of developing countries, is at the heart of the Convention (articles 12 to 19). To this effect, the creation of an International Fund for Cultural Diversity has been provided for (Article 18). Resources for this Fund will come from voluntary contributions from Parties, funds allocated by UNESCO’s General Conference, diverse contributions, gifts or bequests, interest due on resources of the Fund, funds raised through collections and receipts from events organized for the benefit of the Fund, or any other resources authorized by the Fund’s regulations.”

In addition, the release affirms that “the concern to ensure coherence between the Convention and other existing international instruments guided states to include a clause (Article 20) aimed at ensuring a relationship of ‘mutual supportiveness, complementarity, and non-subordination’ between these instruments. At the same time, ‘nothing in the present Convention shall be interpreted as modifying rights and obligations of the Parties under any other treaties to which they are parties.’” Moreover, “the Convention establishes a series of follow-up mechanisms aimed at ensuring efficient implementation of the new instrument. Among these, a non-binding mechanism for the settlement of disputes allows, within a strictly cultural perspective, possible divergences of views on the interpretation or application of certain rules or principles relative to the Convention (Article 25) to be dealt with. This mechanism encourages, first and foremost, negotiation, then recourse to good offices or mediation. If no settlement is achieved, a Party may have recourse to conciliation. The Convention does not include any mechanism for sanctions.”

Finally, it should be recalled that UNESCO’s Constitution provides a mandate to both respect the “fruitful diversity of (…) cultures” and to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image,” principles that are reaffirmed in the Preamble to the Convention. The Organization, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next month, has spared no effort to fulfill this double mission. With this Convention, it completes its normative action aimed at defending cultural diversity in all of its manifestations, and most especially the two pillars of culture: heritage and contemporary creativity.

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Adoption of the Convention of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO: “A historic victory in the campaign to protect the right of nations to set their own cultural policies”


Early in the evening on Thursday October 20, UNESCO formally adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in a vote held during the plenary session of the 33rd UNESCO General Conference. UNESCO member states voted as follows:

  • FOR: 148
  • AGAINST: 2 (United States of America and Israel)
  • ABSTENTION: 4 (Australia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Liberia)

Earlier, on October 17, Commission IV (Culture), under the chairmanship of Jaime Nualart of Mexico, had discussed agenda item 8.3—Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions—the most hotly anticipated item at the General Conference, and adopted the proposed draft, thereby paving the way for the vote at the General Conference, which opened in Paris on October 3. Commission IV called on the General Conference to adopt the draft convention as recommended by the Executive Council. It also recommended voting in favor of the Japanese-sponsored resolution aimed at providing “supplementary explanations encouraging ratification of the Convention by member states.” Sixteen delegations were represented by their respective ministers of culture, including Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Québec, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Chile, Cuba, Ghana, Haiti, Mexico, South Africa, and Togo. Over 60 delegations spoke in turn, urging adoption of the convention. After member states spoke out, NGOs made their case. In total, 79 nations (including the United Kingdom speaking on behalf of the25 EU member states, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Turkey; and Costa Rica speaking for the G77/China), 2 observers, and 10 NGOs spoke on the importance of the convention and called in virtual unanimity for its immediate adoption. The United States, Israel, and Australia were the only states opposed to the draft document.

Once the general declarations were made, the 28 amendments tabled by the United States had to be examined by Commission IV. A procedural discussion was held. Despite the extremely limited support for its position, the United States called for a formal vote on each of the 28 amendments. At each show of hands, only three or four countries (Israel, Australia, Rwanda, Kiribati) supported the U.S. position, compared to 140 to 150 votes against. Four or five countries (Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, Australia, Swaziland) were frequent abstainers. The 28 amendments were rejected one by one at over 145 votes to 3. Despite these results, the United States also demanded a vote on the draft convention, the results of which were unequivocal: 151 countries in favor of the text finalized in June, 2 opposed (United States and Israel), and 2 abstentions (Australia and Kiribati). After the vote, five delegations issued statements to be annexed to the minutes of the Commission meeting.

In the plenary session that followed, Japan presented its “revised draft resolution” subsequent to negotiations with the EU and Canada. The U.S. intervened in its turn to propose an amendment to the revised resolution, but it was rejected by a vote of 116 to 4. The resolution on the Japanese proposal was adopted by 132 votes to 2 (USA and Israel), with three countries abstaining (including Australia and Afghanistan).

The draft Convention had already been approved by the UNESCO Executive Board on September 29. It recommended to the 33rd UNESCO General Conference that it examine the Preliminary Draft Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions adopted at the third session of the intergovernmental meeting held from May 25 to June 3, 2005 and adopt it as a UNESCO Convention (See our Bulletin No. 28 of September 26)


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Québec to approve UNESCO Convention of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

Line Beauchamp, Minister of Culture and Communications of Québec, Paris, October 20, 2005 – 2005/10/20

At the conclusion of the plenary session of the General Conference on October 20, one observer declared, “This is a great day. The adoption of this Convention by UNESCO is a sweet victory that will protect and promote cultural expressions in a spirit of openness and reciprocity. In some ways, the convention also rehabilitates politics as a viable force in the face of economic rationale by bringing non-market considerations into the trade liberalization equation. It has also given Québec an opportunity to enhance its international profile by bringing its political convictions and the expertise of its civil servants and researchers to the world stage, and by demonstrating the commitment of Québec artists and civil society, who have helped make the convention a reality by actively contributing to UNESCO working groups, committees, and other forums at every stage of the process.” A journalist echoed this view, describing the convention as “a victory for French, Canadian, and Québec diplomats, because they pioneered the initiative to create a legal foundation for cultural diversity at the international level.”

Canadian heritage minister Liza Frulla and Québec culture and communications minister Line Beauchamp had already addressed the Commission IV meeting, where they were warmly applauded and thanked by the Commission chair himself. In her remarks, Ms. Beauchamp stressed the importance of maintaining pro-convention momentum. Adding to the Canadian position by expressing Québec’s views, Ms. Beauchamp declared, “Like the Canadian federal government, the government of Québec is in favor of the adoption of the draft convention in its current form. This document is a reasonable and balanced compromise acceptable to the greatest number. It would inappropriate to amend it because any change could threaten that balance. This convention deserves our support for various reasons, including the reaffirmation of the sovereign right of states to develop and implement policies and measures promoting and protecting the diversity of cultural expressions; recognition of the special nature of cultural activities, goods, and services; affirmation of the non-subordination of the convention to other international instruments; and its strong commitment to cultural dialog, international cooperation, and openness to civil society. After all these years of debate, we urge you to give your clear support to the draft convention.”

In fact, the vote by UNESCO member states at the 33rd General Conference is a victory for Québec, which worked for years alongside the French and Canadian governments and in close collaboration with the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity to defend the principle of cultural diversity. But as Ms. Beauchamp also stressed, “We need to start the diplomatic push for ratification and rally support (…). Québec wants to be one of the first governments to approve the convention, and the National Assembly will be the scene of a historic ceremony in November.” Commenting on the U.S. position, the minister emphasized the importance of “maintaining dialog and finding arguments to convince the U.S. that cultural diversity is in its interests. We also need to give the convention time to get off the ground in order to show its worth. There is still much work to be done in order to get as many countries as possible on board for ratification.

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The National Assembly of Québec hails adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

National Assembly, Québec City, October 18, 2005 – 2005/10/18

Québec premier Jean Charest introduced a motion in the National Assembly to mark this major advance in the protection the diversity of cultural expressions. “We should all celebrate the adoption of the Draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions by UNESCO at the 33rd General Conference (…) We can also be pleased that 151 states expressed clear support for the draft document, whereas only two voted against. This is a very important victory, a victory we can credit in large part to the efforts of the government of Québec.”

The premier pointed out that the Québec government was one of the first to throw its support behind the idea of a convention. Québec’s position on cultural diversity dates back to the late 1980s, when the Québec government demanded that Québec’s cultural industries be excluded from the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Québec reiterated its stance in 1993 during NAFTA negotiations with the U.S. and Mexico. In 1999, Québec formally came out in favor of adopting a standard-setting international instrument to protect and promote international diversity. Mr. Charest explained that “when we talk about a legal instrument, it’s because we want a counterweight to bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements. And when we talk about standards, it’s because we want it to be perfectly clear that in the event of a conflict involving a free trade agreement, our objective is to see cultural diversity protection prevail.” In September 2003, the Quebec government adopted, by cabinet decision, an official position in favor of the diversity of cultural expressions. “For two years now, my colleagues (have backed this position): the minister of culture and communications, who is in Paris now (…) defending Québec’s views at UNESCO; the minister of international relations, who (…) has worked untiringly to defend our position for the past two years; the minister of economic development, who has thrown his support behind his colleagues (…). The minister of culture and communications is expected to defend culture, but it is even more important for the minister of economic development and the minister of finance to be one side so that we can speak in one voice when presenting Québec’s position.

Mr. Charest went on to say that the Québec government had defended cultural diversity in every arena and could now declare its first victory. “Our history is probably the best argument for a convention to protect cultural diversity. We believe that the current process of globalization may threaten the ability of states and government to take action in support of culture. Excluding culture from major trade agreements quickly proved inadequate for guaranteeing the right of states to support their artists, creatives, and cultural industries.” This is where the idea of an international instrument was born. The idea came from Québec, and quickly attracted support from France and the Canadian federal government as well, Mr. Charest explained. “With the support of France and other countries, we successfully promoted cultural diversity in every international forum we could: UNESCO, the European Union, the International Organization of the Francophonie, the International Network on Cultural Policy. Québec also played an influential role in this debate as the result of the untiring efforts of a number of Quebecers who deserve our thanks today.” They include Pierre Curzi and Robert Pilon. “Thanks to them and their team, there are now over 30 cultural diversity coalitions representing the artistic and cultural communities in as many countries. Their coalition has built a remarkable partnership between governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society. Without a doubt, civil society has played a crucial role in this fight and will continue to do so in the phases left to come.” Mr. Charest also named Ivan Bernier, “the reputed jurist who did a colossal job fleshing out the legal avenues for the implementation of a convention on cultural diversity, especially in his 1998 study in collaboration with France.”

In concluding, Mr. Charest reminded his audience that the battle was not over. “Now comes ratification. To take effect, the convention must be ratified by at least 30 states. So we cannot sit back and relax just yet. Québec should maintain its leadership in protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions by becoming the first government to approve the convention. That is my wish, and I call upon all members of the National Assembly to ensure this step is completed as rapidly as possible. The process will get underway in the next few days and a vote on adoption will take place in the coming weeks. Governments involved in defending the diversity of cultural expressions need to remain active and continue promoting the convention so that it can take effect and prove its effectiveness. Drafting a convention is one thing, but it still needs to be ratified and implemented, it still needs to be protected against countermeasures in other forums (…) like the WTO. We must be extremely vigilant in this regard. We will be there with our allies from Canada, France, the Francophonie, the EU, South America, with civil society and the coalition, but most of all, with our artists and artisans, those same people we have fought to provide with an environment designed to foster the development of our people, our culture, and our language.”

National Assembly opposition leader Louise Harel added her voice to those of other National Assembly members to hail the new convention. She declared that the official opposition would play a constructive role in the debate to approve this important international undertaking. She also paid tribute to former culture ministers Louise Beaudoin, Agnès Maltais (the member for Taschereau), and Diane Lemieux (member for Bourget), “who successively promoted cultural diversity here, in the National Assembly, and in all international forums in which they took part.” Ms. Harel also paid tribute to Mr. Ivan Bernier, “whose studies were instrumental in convincing our friends in France to set up the France-Québec working group on cultural diversity (…) Quebecers should also be very proud that (the idea of a convention) was born here (…) It was this working group that commissioned the first study on the legal feasibility of an international instrument on cultural diversity. Published in 2002, this study was the veritable launching point for the debate on the convention.”

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UNESCO adopts the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: “Canada will move quickly to ratify the Convention and will continue to play a leadership role to ensure that the Convention is ratified by the largest possible number of UNESCO member

Liza Frulla, Canadian Heritage Minister, Ottawa, October 20, 2005 – 2005/10/20

Following adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions by the member states of UNESCO, minister of Canadian heritage Liza Frulla declared “This is a great day for the cultural community. With this Convention in place, the international community will be able to take full advantage of the treasure of our diverse cultures and identities for generations to come. This successful outcome is the fruit of Canada’s international leadership and the productive partnerships it has built over the years with countries in the International Network on Cultural Policy, the Francophonie, and the Organization of American States. Canada is grateful for the hard work of its partner countries that have been advocating the need for this Convention.”

Ms. Frulla went on to add that she “would like to acknowledge the cooperation of the provinces and territories throughout this process, and especially the Government of Quebec’s important contribution and its productive collaboration,” The minister further added, “I would also like to underscore the role of civil society in advancing this file, at home and abroad (…). This is why Canada will move quickly to ratify the Convention and will continue to play a leadership role to ensure that the Convention is ratified by the largest possible number of UNESCO member states as soon as possible.”

In a speech on October 17 at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference on the need to adopt the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, minister Frulla declared that, “In Canada, representatives of provincial and territorial governments and civil society have unanimously stated their support for the text of the Convention that has been submitted to us. The Quebec minister of culture is with me here today to demonstrate her province’s commitment alongside Canada’s federal government (…). Our efforts to get this Convention adopted by member states of UNESCO are driven by our unshakeable commitment to protect and promote Canada’s rich cultural diversity, including our Aboriginal heritage, and the boundless creativity of Canadians. The text of the Convention is the result of lengthy negotiations and compromises between countries around the world. It is a balanced and reasonable text which meets Canada’s core objectives.” She also pointed out that “Canada has been a key player in the development of the Convention and, since 1998, has been part of all the negotiations to ensure progress and consensus. Through its leadership, Canada has demonstrated its commitment to greater international cooperation to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions. We will continue to work with our partners here at UNESCO, at home, and around the world to ensure that the diversity of expressions of humanity continues to be heard and preserved for future generations.”

Before inviting her colleague from Quebec to conclude Canada’s presentation, Ms. Frulla explained that “This is not a Convention that is against anything. This is a Convention that is for all of us. It is for all these reasons that this Convention has received such a large consensus. And it is also why Canada calls on all member states to vote in favor of adopting the text of the Convention without changes.”

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Adoption of the UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: “This is a major step forward in a world in need of protecting cultural diversity and requiring a dialog of cultures that is respectful of all”

Jacques Chirac, President of France, Paris, Thursday, October 20, 2005 – 2005/10/20

At a press briefing on October 1 following the Convention’s adoption, Quai d’Orsay’s spokesperson stated that “We salute the adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which the president of the Republic declared back in September 2002 to be one of our priorities. It is a triumph for French diplomacy, which has worked collectively for over three years to ensure adoption of this text. It is also a triumph for UNESCO and the European Union, for this result would not have been possible without the unwavering unity shown by the 25 member states and the Commission during negotiations. The Convention today takes its place among the founding instruments of international cultural law. (…) We call on UNESCO member states to support and ratify the Convention, so that it may come into effect at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The French president also saluted the Convention’s adoption by UNESCO, saying “Virtually all member states approved the text enshrining the right of individual states to develop and conduct cultural policies. This is a major step forward in a world in need of protecting cultural diversity and requiring a dialog of cultures that is respectful of all and in keeping with the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Convention raises the hope that globalization will be more mindful of the identity of peoples. It is an encouragement to new cooperation with developing countries to help their cultural artisans and make their cultural offerings better known around the world.” President Chirac specifically asked the Government of France to “undertake the immediate ratification of this Convention and be particularly vigilant in seeing that the fight for cultural diversity continues in all arenas.”

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Adoption of the UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: This text inscribes into international law the diversity, equality, and dignity of cultures and hence the right of states to take measures in support of cultural policies

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, French Minister of Culture and Communications, Paris, October 21, 2005

French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres has greeted UNESCO’s adoption of the Convention as “fabulous news.” “It is a recognition of diversity, a recognition that culture is not a mere commodity (…) This international instrument gives culture special status.” Speaking for France and “the fight for values,” the culture minister was unequivocal: “This Convention will have a real impact on the audiovisual and book industries. But the fight has gone deeper than that, it has been a battle over the principles of respect for the law and building peace through culture, science… UNESCO’s very missions. Culture has moved beyond good intentions to become an actual concern in society. We hesitate to speak of cultural diplomacy, but that is what this is about. (…) It means I have more clout in Brussels today to defend France’s system of financial aid to the movie industry, to cite one example.”

In an article in Le Monde, the minister wrote that “Seeing as the question of identity will no doubt be the great question of the century—more than mere creativity and artistic and cultural expression in our increasingly standardized and trade-regulated world—this text inscribes into international law the diversity, equality, and dignity of cultures and hence the right of states to take measures in support of cultural policies (…) Inscribing in international law that works of art and the mind cannot be treated as mere goods of trade in this day and age of all-encompassing trade when anything can be bought and sold confers a special status on culture, one in keeping with the dignity of human beings and our duty to history. This is the meaning of this text.” The minister also added that “This is not a message of withdrawal, it is not a surrender to close-mindedness and idiosyncrasies that would justify acts of violence or fanaticism. (…) In this initiative embraced by the international community and backed whole-heartedly by the European Union, France’s contribution must be to help make it clear that adopting UNESCO’s text is an essential step toward humanizing and gaining greater control over globalization. (…) Our challenge today is to take this heritage and use it to advance artistic and cultural creativity, to foster the sharing of ideas and works, and to mold the world of tomorrow. Created in the aftermath of war, UNESCO was to serve the world, and must now save the diversity of the world. This undertaking is not just cultural. It is profoundly political (…) Because it is the very foundation of peace. Cultural diversity is not about arrogance. It is not a survival reflex. It is not the protest of a minority. It is a helping hand. A mark of respect. An urgency in today’s world to stop the spiral into fundamentalism and provide momentum for peace and humanism.”

Questioned on the attitude of the U.S., the minister declared, “I would have preferred to see the U.S. abstain or vote in favor, because it is in their interest. In that respect, there are no differences of opinion in the democratic world. We all believe that wherever there is strife, hatred, or war, we must deliver a message of respect for others. It is very important.” He also added that “We can’t be hypocrites. The reality is that one country dominates, and there is a risk of uniformity. U.S. films represent 85% of all ticket sales in the world. The goal is to preserve the broadest possible diversity while also aiming for equity. For trade to occur, the other trading partner must exist. (…) I’m surprised by this harder line, which is no doubt related to the success of this Convention. This stance does not seem wise. The U.S. should be the first to promote cultural diversity, rather than leave people confused about their intentions. No one can object to the concept. It is a fight for values.”

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Adoption of the UNESCO Convention of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: An historic achievement

Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity, Paris, October 17, 2005 – 2005/10/17

In a press release, Pierre Curzi and Scott McIntyre, copresidents of the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity representing 38 of Canada’s leading cultural organizations from the book, film, television, music, performing arts, and visual arts sectors, declared that UNESCO’s adoption of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions by an overwhelming majority of member states was an “historic achievement” in the international campaign waged in recent years to ensure the right of states to have cultural policies. “The real historic precedent in this UNESCO Convention is that it recognizes in international law for the first time ever the distinctive nature of cultural goods and services as vehicles of values, identity, and meaning. They cannot be reduced to mere commercial goods. The growing pressure on countries to renounce their right to cultural policies in trade negotiations made it absolutely urgent to adopt the UNESCO Convention without delay,” added Mr. Curzi.

For Scott McIntyre, the decisive majority vote in favor of the Convention shows that the right to cultural policies is now recognized as a priority by countries around the world. “The reason for this is clear: with very few exceptions, countries need to be able to adopt such policies as national quotas, subsidies, tax credits, and rules on foreign ownership to ensure their citizens have access to their own culture, and to the cultures of other countries around the world. Without such policies, Canadian books, music, TV shows, and movies would be few and far between. These were the stakes in the debate.”

Both Mr. Curzi and Mr. McIntrye praised the leadership role that the Canadian government played over the last six years in rallying international support for the draft Convention and lauded its efforts in the last year to arrive at a final text with real teeth. They noted that the federal government’s efforts were enhanced by the vigorous promotional support the Government of Québec had provided since day one, and more recently by the unequivocal support of the province of Ontario.

While hailing the major progress represented by the vote on adoption, the Canadian Coalition stressed that the campaign was not over, but instead now shifting to a new phase: ratification. “Let’s be clear: this Convention won’t achieve much if it is only ratified by Canada, the 25 member states of the European Union, and a smattering of other countries,” declared Coalition executive vice president Robert Pilon. “For it to carry any weight, 50 to 60 countries need to ratify it quickly, over the next two or three years, in all regions of the world—Latin America, Asia/Oceania, and Africa, in addition to Canada and Europe” he added, urging countries that had championed the Convention to now launch a concerted ratification campaign, particularly in light of the intense opposition by the United States throughout the negotiations, opposition now expected to be channeled into pressure on other countries not to ratify. “That’s why the Canadian government must continue its leadership role on the issue by making the case for ratification in all appropriate world forums. We also expect Canada to lead by example by becoming one of the first countries to ratify the Convention.”

Mr. Curzi concluded by pledging that “the coalitions will continue to urge ratification of the Convention, in support of diplomatic efforts by Canada and other countries leading the fight.”

Press Release of the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity

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33rd UNESCO General Conference: Overwhelming support for the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

French Coalition for Cultural Diversity, Paris, October 21, 2005 – 2005/10/21

In a press release, the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity and its 51 member organizations applauded the overwhelming support by UNESCO member states for adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. According to the French coalition, “This Convention adopted over the wishes of a completely isolated United States is the fruit of negotiations begun in October 2003 and marks a veritable equilibrium by enshrining the legitimacy of cultural policies in international law.”

The Coalition further congratulated French president Jacques Chirac, and the French and Canadian governments, for taking the initiative of suggesting such a convention to UNESCO and thanked UNESCO’s other member states, its director general, and its personnel for working quickly to see this Convention through to adoption. It also praised the European Commission’s involvement in debates and the unanimous support for the Convention by the 25 member states of the European Union.

The press release goes on to note that the French Coalition will campaign to have UNESCO member states ratify the convention and hopes that France will lead by example by being one of the first countries to do so. In this regard, the Coalition campaigned strongly in support of this convention, along with 30 other cultural diversity coalitions across the globe (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Germany, Guinea, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Peru, Senegal, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Togo, Uruguay) and that are members of the International Liaison Committee of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity (ILC).

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The United States strenuously opposes the United Nations’ newly approved convention on cultural diversity: “The convention could block free exchange of ideas. It could be manipulated and abused to undermine, rather than promote, cultural diversity”

Louise V. Oliver, U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, Permanent Delegation of the United States of America to UNESCO, Paris, France, October 20, 2005 – 2004/10/20

In a statement on October 20 following adoption of the Convention by UNESCO member states at the 33rd General Conference, U.S. ambassador to UNESCO Louise Olivier described the U.S. as “the most open country in the world to the diversity of the world’s cultures, people, and products.” For this reason, says Ms. Olivier, the U.S. is extremely disheartened by this decision. She goes on to say that the U.S. has been very clear about its deep concern that the draft convention could be misinterpreted, hindering the free flow of ideas by word and image and also affecting other areas, notably trade.

The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO complained at the Plenary of the General Conference held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris that the text was “deeply flawed” and that her country had no real chance to review it. She also noted that the discussion had not been open and there had not been enough time for serious debate. Despite the plea for consensus by UNESCO’s director general last June, no new talks were held since then and the text with its flaws remained intact, Ms. Olivier claimed. For the U.S., the text had two major flaws: it could be used to restrict freedom of expression and the right to freely choose cultural expressions, and article 20 could be invoked to set up barriers to the free trade of cultural goods and services. She also criticized the draft based on the fact that “any state, in the name of cultural diversity, can use the ambiguities of this convention to (…) block the import of goods or services seen as cultural expressions.” “The term ‘cultural expressions’ has never been clearly defined and opens the door wide to misinterpretation,” added the ambassador, who stressed that the U.S.’s goal is to ensure the free circulation of diversity in all its forms: cultural, informational, and trade.

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Culture, from UNESCO to WTO

La Presse, October 19, 2005 – 2005/10/19

In this article, Mario Roy states that questions remain after the adoption at UNESCO of a draft convention on the diversity of cultural expressions. He acknowledges that the adoption of this convention is a definite victory. The text, he notes, recognizes the right of states to support culture through direct means or quotas. These measures exist virtually everywhere. And the fact is, they work. In Québec, they have contributed, for example, to the robust health of the Québec film and music industry. In France, its lively and opulent culture has long been tied to the powerful engine of the state. Even in South Korea, distribution quotas have enabled the local film industry to claim over 50% of the market! But, he worries, the growing liberalization of trade spearheaded by the WTO can threaten this de facto situation, and require UNESCO to step in as a counterbalance.

Moreover, says Mr. Roy, culture is the main export of the U.S., which is the world’s largest producer at $80 to $90 billion per year. So we should not be surprised by its “aggressiveness.” The U.S. has a surplus of reasons to be wary of UNESCO, which it currently finances to the tune of 22%, even though it has boycotted it for years. This raises some questions about the future: “will signatory states, which now ardently support the convention, adopt the legislative provisions that truly bind them a month or a year from now? Ottawa and Québec have formally sworn to do so. But how many others will heed the siren call of the U.S., which is skilled in sidestepping international agreements through sweet bilateral proposals?”

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UNESCO adopts the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

Le Monde, October 18, 2005 – 2005/10/18

"The elephants and eagles could converse with mice.” This was the striking metaphor, reports Nicole Vulser in this issue of Le Monde, used by Jamaica’s representative to UNESCO to salute the quality of the work that led to commission adoption of the Draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. However, though the U.S. can easily be compared to an elephant in terms of culture—85% of film tickets sold worldwide are for Hollywood films—this means little, as the new text was approved against its wishes. “Without cultural pluralism, we choke,” stated Brazil culture minister Gilberto Gil. “It guarantees the survival of minority cultures,” added his Guyanese counterpart. “A real antidote to globalization,” in Mauritania’s view. China and Russia also threw their considerable weight behind this draft convention. It offers “a coherent, clear, and balanced framework,” said Timothy Craddock, Great Britain’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union and showing no sign to Britain’s initial reticence. He also stressed that “most parties have made compromises.”

“This text is above all a political act. It is the first time that the international community has shown such a unanimous desire to halt unchecked liberalization,” stresses France’s Jean Musitelli, a member of the international group of experts that drafted the convention. It represents political, trade, and legal progress. This positive legislation recognizes “the unique nature of cultural activities, goods, and services.” States have the sovereign right to “conserve, adopt, and implement the policies and measures they deem appropriate” for cultural diversity. In addition, each country can use public funds or regulatory measures to fund film, the visual arts, or music. This is unquestionably a major victory for project proponents, Canada and France, which steered it to success in a record time of just over two years. To counter the U.S. in trade talks, article 20 stipulates that this new law will have the same legal value as existing WTO instruments. “A country will have the right to refuse to open its audiovisual and film market as part of international trade talks,” says the office of Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres. “For the first time, vulnerable countries will have leverage to resist,” adds Mr. Musitelli.

However, the text has its limitations: as a compromise, the most radical positions were removed. According to Hélène Ruiz Fabri, professor of international law at Université Paris-I and France’s expert in the matter, the convention “lacks binding force” in terms of means. “The cooperation fund put in place for developing countries depends on voluntary contributions by countries, which are already being asked for money on all sides,” she adds. Unlike WTO agreements that set out real regulatory limitations against the liberalization of a sector, the convention is comparatively lax. Implementing the famous article 20 is sure to be a delicate process.

To take effect, the convention must be ratified by at least thirty countries. The U.S. will try to block this process. “The convention’s strength depends on its legal and political backing,” admits Mr. Musitelli. The more countries that ratify it, the more real weight it will have. Technically speaking, depending on the country, a simple cabinet decree is enough to ratify it, but most of the time parliament must vote on it. Which can take a lot of time. And time is of the essence, as the U.S. is taking advantage of every minute to sign as many bilateral trade agreements as possible with “fragile” countries that do not have strong cultural industries.

On this point, Vincent Noce writes in Libération that, despite U.S. ire, the convention to enshrine the uniqueness of culture has been adopted. But, “far from being out of options, the Americans are still trying to include culture in bilateral agreements. They did so with South Korea, Chile, and Morocco in exchange for trade favors, but not without resistance. France intervened for Morocco to ensure it stayed the course. Culture can also be war.”

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UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: An agreement to protect culture

Radio France internationale – News, October 17, 2005 – 2005/10/17

According to Colette Thomas, the author of this article, the goal of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is to no longer speak of “cultural exception” and adopt a new international standard within UNESCO to protect goods that, being cultural in nature, are not like other goods. Referring to the new text, the journalist reports, the French culture minister explained that “this international instruments treats culture as an exception, which means it is not the market that must regulate it, but rather states, which must support and promote their own artists.” For its part, the WTO sees the arts and culture as goods like any other. “Experience will show whether this new Convention can stand up to the WTO.” In any case, says UNESCO, existing bilateral agreements will not be subject to this new convention and other bilateral cultural agreements will still be possible. They will be outside the jurisdiction of the new convention.

The journalist rightly notes that the completion of the draft UNESCO Convention comes within mere weeks of the end of a series of WTO trade talks. These talks will wind up with the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December 2005. During initial discussions, which stretched over a number of years, the future liberalization of services was treated as a side issue, as the WTO had no intention of treating this issue as it would other goods. These talks influenced the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Urged on by a number of European countries, including France, the European Commission refused to consider opening markets for many services, terming them “sensitive.” Education and health were outside the scope of these negotiations, as were other cultural sectors such as film, television, radio, libraries, archives, and museums. Several governments reached a consensus to refuse trade in these kinds of services outright, while keeping the door open to international negotiations regarding cultural events, publishing, and architecture.

According to the journalist, the new UNESCO Convention must take into account other international WTO-like agreements. She then sets out its jurisdiction: the preamble mentions the importance of traditional knowledge, media diversity, the fundamental role of education, and the risk that globalization could destabilize relations between rich and poor countries in the area of culture. In keeping with its stance on more open markets, the U.S. objected to recognizing the dual nature of cultural goods and services. However, all experts see this new text as a positive contribution to international law, at a time when culture is called on to play an increasingly important role. Artists, creatives, and all professionals involved in the world of culture will probably have trouble understanding this new legal tool, which promises close cooperation between major competing cultural industries such as the film and music industry. The new convention is also aimed at fostering a thriving cultural sector in developing countries. Cooperation between developed and developing countries in the areas of film and music should also be encouraged. Whether it will remain wishful thinking or lead to a new level of cooperation, the new International Fund for Cultural Diversity will prove whether richer countries are committed to fostering creativity in all its forms in countries that have few resources to devote to the world of culture.

In conclusion, the journalist describes the economic dimension of this Convention: A study conducted in 2000 by UNESCO shows that in the last two decades, international trade of cultural goods has quadrupled. Between 1980 and 1998, world trade in books, magazines, music, the visual arts, film, photos, radio, television, games, and sporting goods exploded. This trade, however, only involved a few countries. In 1990, for example, Japan, the U.S., Germany, and the United Kingdom exported over half of all cultural goods. This hegemony has changed little, aside from China’s entry into the sector. In 1998, China ranked third worldwide for cultural exports. It was to try to rebalance “this global information society” that UNESCO wanted this convention, which is so in tune with the spirit of the times.

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151 countries support UNESCO’s Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Only the U.S. and Israel voted against it.

Le Devoir, October 18, 2005 – 2005/10/18

In this article, Alec Castonguay reports that after two years of fierce negotiations, diplomatic pressure from all quarters, and close behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the international convention on cultural diversity was finally adopted at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with 151 countries supporting the text that Canada and Québec qualified as “historic.” The author notes that this convention will ensure that culture is no longer treated as a mere good subject to other trade agreements, which will give signatory states more freedom to develop their own policies to protect their cultural industries. For example, signatory countries may use subsidies, quotas, and tax credits to support their cultural industries, even if the WTO and NAFTA say otherwise, because the convention establishes that it will not be subordinate to other trade agreements. Steps may therefore be taken to slow the U.S. steamroller in terms of cultural goods and services, of which it exports $80 billion per year.

Yet, Castonguay notes, up until the very end the U.S. tried to torpedo the convention by proposing multiple amendments designed to water down the text, but they were all defeated. To support this victory, the Québec Minister of Culture and Communications Line Beauchamp stated that the Québec National Assembly will be called on to express its support for the convention as part of a motion to be tabled in early November. In Ottawa, Canadian Heritage minister Liza Frulla intends to present a brief to cabinet in the coming weeks and would like the Canadian government to be one of the first countries to ratify the convention on cultural diversity in order to set the tone for this crucial second stage. According to the minister, Canada could officially sign the convention before year end or by early 2006 at the latest. Ministers Liza Frulla and Line Beauchamp will then embark on a mission to convince countries one-by-one that approving the text is not enough—it must be officially ratified. “I am rather optimistic based on what I’ve heard (…),” explains Ms. Beauchamp. “The position of other countries is clear. The debates were so intense that even countries that were undecided finally had to get involved, which is a good sign. We will certainly continue our efforts so that all countries ratify the treaty. But we can at least take the time today to be happy for culture.”

Moreover, the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity, which has fought hard for years to remove this area of trade from WTO and NAFTA agreements, is delighted with the convention’s adoption. “I am extremely happy. For 151 countries to vote in support of it is beyond our best hopes,” says Robert Pilon, the Coalition’s executive vice president. “I am even happier given that the U.S. really bore down this summer,” continues Mr. Pilon. “I felt it in all the countries I visited.” The U.S., which returned to UNESCO after a 19 year absence just to fight this convention, will not put away its arms so easily, he believes. “Once the UNESCO General Conference plenary officially validates the text, the U.S. will launch the second phase of its offensive. There will be no more strength in numbers, and each country will return home to have its parliament ratify the text. U.S. pressure will be heavy to ensure as few countries as possible ratify the agreement (…). But the vote was so overwhelming that we should be able to sign on 30 countries within two or three years. But the Coalition’s goal is 60 countries from all regions of the world. This is how to give the convention the most clout.”

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