GATS Negotiations and Cultural Policies

Submitted by Sasha Costanza-Chock on February 10, 2006.English | WTO


As reported in the last issue of the INCD Newsletter, the December meeting of trade ministers in Hong Kong has given new impetus to the WTO's Doha Round of negotiations. One of the decisions reached by ministers was a new process for GATS negotiations that, according to INCD Steering Committee member Jane Kelsey, ?will directly affect audiovisual services, and other sectors with major impacts on culture, such as telecommunications, computer-related services and logistics (including distribution services).

Ms. Kelsey, a professor of law at Auckland University, describes this process in the following terms:

During the GATS negotiations groups of governments that share an interest in opening up a particular sector have formed what are called ?friends? groups. That includes ?friends of audio-visual services?, and during the opposition to the UNESCO Convention ?the friends of cultural diversity?. The US has been a key player, along with Taiwan, Hong Kong China and Mexico?.

?(In place of the previous bilateral negotiating process), the final Declaration from the Hong Kong meeting endorsed a ?plurilateral? approach, as a way to push the process faster. Groups of WTO members who have an interest in a particular sector can put a collective request to other WTO members asking for specific commitments in that sector.?

?Any government that receives these requests *must* consider them. In theory, they can consider and then reject them. But it will be difficult for targeted governments to avoid direct discussions with the group making the demand. This means the pressure on governments to make commitments will be much greater than before?.

?The groups that draw up these sectoral requests will be based around the ?friends? groups. Only those groups that claim a ?critical mass? of the international trade in that particular service are expected to use the plurilateral process, although it is unclear what ?critical mass? means.?

The groups that are preparing collective requests include the audiovisual services, computer-related services, logistical services and telecommunications services, each of which has implications for cultural policies.

According to Ms. Kelsey, ?The main targets for these demands are expected to be Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia (not Venezuela); Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa; ASEAN countries, China, India and Korea; plus OECD countries.?

The Hong Kong Declaration also states that the minimum commitment that all governments should offer is to lock in their current level of liberalization, including in the audiovisual sector. This would preclude any future changes to measures that would be more ?trade restrictive.?

In the new timetable, ?Demandeurs will meet, identify a critical mass and common demands, and send these ?requests? by 28 February 2006. Revised offers are to be submitted by 31 July 2006 and final draft schedules are meant to be tabled by 31 October 2006.