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Culture in Treaties and Agreements

October 31, 201831 October 2018

Trade and tourism in the arts and culture



Véronique Guèvremont and Ivana Ostašević

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This report examines whether and how countries have applied the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (the Convention) in 59 bilateral or regional agreements.

The Convention, adopted in October 2005, “recognizes the dual economic and cultural nature of cultural activities, goods, and services, and reaffirms the sovereign right of States to maintain, adopt and implement policies and measures they consider necessary and appropriate in order to guarantee access to diverse cultural expressions.” The Convention calls for policies and measures that:

  • Simplify visa procedures for artists and cultural professionals, including entry, visitor, and temporary travel visas
  • Encourage capacity building through training, exchange, and mentorship activities
  • Provide for specific tax benefits for artists and cultural professionals from developing countries

The authors discovered that 13 of the 59 agreements did not grant special treatment to cultural goods and/or services. On the other hand, seven of the 59 agreements mention the Convention explicitly, often included in an annexed Protocol on Cultural Cooperation. Many of the remaining 39 agreements do not include explicit reference to the Convention but do “refer to concepts closely linked to that instrument”, including cultural development and cultural diversity.

A case study in the report examines agreements in which Canada has been involved since October 2005.  Typically, the Canadian agreements contain a general cultural clause, often worded as “[n]othing in this Agreement shall be construed to apply to measures adopted or maintained by either Party with respect to cultural industries except as specifically provided in Article [xxx] National Treatment and Market Access for Goods and Tariff Elimination”. The report notes that this the exemption covers both cultural goods and services but is less clear about digital products. Based on another case study, the authors conclude that New Zealand has an exemplary cultural clause that includes cultural goods and services as well as digital products that could be used as a model for other countries.

The authors recommend that countries work toward:

  • Advancing the position of culture in international trade negotiations
  • Promoting the specificity of cultural goods and services in the digital environment
  • Developing effective monitoring instruments for measuring the impact of the Convention
  • Achieving effective cooperation between different government sectors at the national level (e.g., immigration rules, visa regulations, taxation of cultural work and workers)
  • Setting up appropriate policy frameworks in developing countries to enable them to take on a more active role in trade negotiations around cultural goods and services

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