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Local Content Requirements for Film, Radio, and Television as a Means of Protecting Cultural Diversity: Theory and Reality (I)

In economic theory, quotas have always been considered as a major impediment to trade. A concrete application of this view can be seen in Article XI of the GATT which prohibits any form of quantitative restrictions other than customs duties. Curiously, however, the use of quotas for the specific purpose of protecting domestic content in the film, radio, and television sectors remains largely permitted under existing international trade regulation.In addition, the practice of States since the entry into force of the WTO discloses an obvious reluctance on their part to make commitments in the audiovisual sector, which is easily understandable considering the significant number of States who still deem it necessary to resort to quantitative restrictions in those sectors. More recently, a tendency has developed in bilateral and regional free trade agreements to make room for reservations concerning quotas in the audiovisual sector. Obviously, there must be issues other than commercial but just as important that are at stake behind this special treatment granted to audiovisual products.

These issues, as will be seen, are very real and justify resorting to quotas under certain circumstances. However, it does not mean that the question of their use is definitively solved. For many observers in fact, it is not so much the theoretical considerations advanced to justify quotas that explain the tolerance they are accorded in the audiovisual sector, but rather the fact that digital technologies are going to render this type of intervention obsolete by simply making border inspections impossible. Still, it may be a little premature to conclude that local content requirements will soon be a matter of the past, as evidenced by the fact that those who predict such a development are generally the same ones who are asking for new international regulations prohibiting any type of barriers to trade in digital products. To the extent that significant cultural issues are at stake, there is no doubt that means will be found in order to prevent the right to cultural expression, and thereby cultural diversity itself, from being compromised.

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Column by Mr. Ivan Bernier, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law at Université Laval in Québec City for Spotlight on Diversity, hosted by the Governmnet of Québec Secretariat for Cultural Diversity

Filed Under: Academic | English | Magazine Article