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CPTech Statement on UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity

This week, 151 countries are supporting UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Diversity while the US and Israel are against it (Australia and the Pacific island of Kiribati are abstaining). This is my take on it. Everyone is focusing on the politics of it (the US isolated again etc) but I am most interested in the cultural exception issue. What is the fuss about? The vote on the Convention on Cultural Diversity at UNESCO today was also about the rights of countries to continue using possible cultural exceptions to help their own cultural industries. Most vocal on this are the French (they may have been be the first to introduce the concept of the "cultural exception" in trade negotiations) and the Canadians (who lost the fight at the WTO against the US about their right to protect Canadian magazines on Canadian newsstands). However, the principle underlying cultural exceptions came from the USA in the 1950s when it adhered to the first multilateral treaty of cultural goods, the Florence Agreement. It was fine then and it should be fine now. The US is protecting its culture too. We have rules on who can own our media for example. But it seems as if the US does not want any other country to protect its own cultural industries and is ready to take any country to the WTO for doing just that. During the final negotiations of the Uruguay Round, many countries expressed concern that the GATT principles on goods and services, including copyright protected products, would undermine their culture, their cultural productions and their cultural communities. Cultural industries, film productions and other audiovisual goods, in many countries only survive due to import restrictions (quota for French produced shows for example) and other support mechanisms such as subsidies by public administrations. Many cultural industries would quickly disappeared (like Cinecita and Italian movies?) if they were subject only to "commercial viability evaluation". How could they measure up to US cultural industries such as Hollywood industries? These have great financial muscles; they are multinationals and have more and more often a monopoly position. Most UNESCO negotiators obviously believe that mechanisms to maintain and develop domestic production are necessary. It is needed if one wants to live in a world where there are still local cultural forms of expression and not in a world where everyone is the same; everything tastes the same, sounds the same etc. The text of the Convention that most relate to this issue is the article on the relationship of this new treaty with other treaties (Article 20). The US wanted a "simple" sentence (see paragraph 2 below) that would just make anything to protect cultural diversity in the treaty irrelevant if there were a conflict with obligations in other treaties. In other words, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Diversity would be a "nice, warm, feel good" treaty but with no teeth. Trade agreement would always prevail? Looking at the article dealing with how cultural exception will play at WIPO or the WTO in the final text, one can read ways of interpreting the treaty differently: "1.(b) when interpreting and applying the other treaties to which they are parties or when entering into other international obligations, Parties shall take into account the relevant provisions of this Convention." This is what the US negotiators wanted to avoid at all cost. What is the fuss about? This is a safety valve at best. It may be useful to some countries (France, Canada, Korea?) but maybe not that useful for some small countries negotiating a bilateral agreement with the US. This is not the "Doha declaration" on knowledge and cultural goods but it should be. Here's Article 20 in June 2005 text: V. Relationship to other instruments Article 20. Relationship to other treaties; mutual supportiveness, complementary and non-subordination 1. Parties recognize that they shall perform in good faith their obligations under this Convention and all other treaties to which they are parties. Accordingly, without subordinating this Convention to any other treaty, they: (a) Shall foster mutual supportiveness between the Convention and the other treaties to which they are parties; and (b) When interpreting and applying the other treaties to which they are parties or when entering into other international obligations, Parties shall take into account the relevant provisions of this Convention. 2. Nothing in this convention shall be interpreted as modifying rights and obligations of the Parties under any other treaties to which they are parties END of QUOTE ************************************************ Manon Anne Ress manon.ress@mediatrademonitor.org, www.cptech.org Consumer Project on Technology 1621 Connecticut Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20009 USA Tel.: +1.202.332.2670, Ext 16 Fax: +1.202.332.2673 Consumer Project on Technology 1 Route des Morillons, CP 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland Tel: +41 22 791 6727 Consumer Project on Technology 24 Highbury Crescent, London, N5 1RX, UK Tel: +44(0)207 226 6663 ex 252 Fax: +44(0)207 354 0607

Manon Ress
Filed Under: English | Media Ownership | Screen Quotas | Subsidies | WTO

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