U.S. isolated in opposition to cultural diversity treaty

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The United States has become increasingly isolated this week in its stance against a new treaty designed to protect and promote cultural diversity in the age of transnational media industries. The treaty, called the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions, was sponsored by Canada and France and has been negotiated by government delegates from over 180 countries in a 2-year consensus process. It is expected to be approved later this week by the plenary session of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization UNESCO.

The treaty grants individual countries a right "to maintain, adopt, and implement policies and measures they deem appropriate for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory". This is designed to protect national cultural policy from 'free trade' agreements like the WTO/GATS, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or bilateral trade negotiations. For example, the screenquota system in South Korea that requires Korean cinemas to show Korean films about 50% of the time, which supporters argue has nurtured the growth of the Korean movie industry, would likely be eliminated if audiovisual services were brought into the WTO - as the United States Trade Representative has proposed. Other countries, like France and Canada have similar policies in place to support their local artists and film industry.

Promoters of the treaty argued that it will allow countries to promote and maintain cultural diversity. The British ambassador to UNESCO characterized the draft as "clear, carefully balanced, and consistent with principles of international law and fundamental human rights".

The United States government criticized the treaty on the grounds it would encourage trade protectionism and could serve as a justification for repressive governments to control their media systems. Condoleezza Rice wrote letters encouraging governments to oppose the treaty.

The United States stood largely alone in that position. Last Monday night, the United States was only joined by Israel to vote for some last minute amendments brought in by the U.S., whereas 151 nations voted for the original wording of the treaty. Australia and Kiribati abstained.

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