INTERNATIONAL NETWORK FOR CULTURAL DIVERSITY
Apologies for not having sent a newsletter for some time. Our participation in events parallel to the Summit of the Americas (see below) absorbed a lot of our energy. We have also been busy planning for the second conference of our network this September in Lucerne.
We intend to be in touch more frequently in the coming months. Because the network secretariat receives so much information related to trade and cultural issues, we plan to start sending out this information to the network. This information will be sent on without comment from the Secretariat, in the language it is received in. If you do not want to receive more frequent information, please let us know. If you have documents you think others in the network would like to receive, please send them on to us and we will ensure they get out to the network.
In the very near future we will also be sending out a call for membership fees. Membership dues are at this point voluntary but we will certainly appreciate receiving them from all organizations able to pay. With your payment, we will also appreciate any comments you may have on the network’s operations and electronic presence.
FREE TRADE AREA OF THE AMERICAS
Negotiations for what could become the world’s largest free trade zone were launched April 21-22 in Quebec City at a summit meeting of 34 heads of government from North, South and Central America. All countries in the hemisphere, except Cuba, have committed to concluding an agreement by 2005.
The ministers and presidents were met in Quebec City by thousands of anti-globalization protesters, as trade union activists, environmentalists, young people and others converged on the city from all over Canada and the United States. Mainstream press reports talked of 40,000, others put the number of protesters at 100,000. The government summit took place behind a 3-metre concrete and wire security fence that wound its way 6 kms through the streets of the old city, a site declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
The government summit was preceded by the Peoples’ Summit of the Americas, a four-day event of panels, workshops and speeches that brought together people from all over the hemisphere to discuss alternatives to the FTAA.
CULTURAL SECTOR INVOLVEMENT
Representatives of the cultural community were involved in all of the events in Quebec City. The INCD secretariat and Canadian-based Steering Committee members were involved in the Peoples’ Summit and a number of the other public events. The two Canadian actors unions sent high-profile artists to speak at the events, and there were individual artists from many countries in the region. While culture was not in the headlines coming out of Quebec City, advocates for cultural diversity were there.
Mireille Gagné explained at a forum of community media workers the importance of content regulations, investment restrictions and other programs that support local cultural production in Canada and across the Americas. She warned of threats posed by U.S. negotiators who would like to do away even with NAFTA’s flawed cultural exemption. If the cultural exemption is further eroded, corporations like AOL Time Warner could use the investor/state dispute settlement process to sue countries that subsidize their cultural industries.
Janet Creery, the Associate Coordinator of the INCD, spoke about the role of community media in promoting cultural diversity.
Award-winning Mexican filmmaker, Irma Pietrasanta spoke of her colleagues’ fears of losing control over their cultural expression, “we must create works which express our own visions, not become maquilladoras for creative production envisaged elsewhere.” Opponents of continental free trade have become familiar with the Mexican maquilladoras, a free-trade zone adjacent to the U.S. border, notorious for low-wages, abysmal labour standards, and terrible pollution problems.
Sophie Ly of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters added her comments: “Where globalization teaches us a new language, we are enriched. Where it robs us of the language of our origin, we are victimized.”
One of Canada’s most distinguished actors and host of a popular CBC TV series, RH Thomson, spoke at a session that drew the link between the FTAA and the GATS. “It is an absurdity that I am here,” said Thomson. “Culture is how we express ourselves on this mysterious journey which we call life. It would be as absurd to shape this expression according to the dictates of the marketplace as it would be to shape religious expression according to the dictates of the marketplace.”
He spoke for many in Quebec City when he made the distinction between liberalization of the cultural sector that will bring us simply a greater number of made-in-the-U.S.A. cultural products and cultural support measures that will ensure a diversity of voices are heard throughout the region.
Thomson spoke as well at the public Teach-In on April 21 organized by the Council of Canadians, where he shared the stage with leading international personalities, including Hector de la Cueva, Agnes Bertrand, José Bové and Maude Barlow. This was a raucous session that followed the initial round of confrontations at the “Wall” and preceded the huge labour-sponsored march. The venue of the Teach-In overflowed its 1200 capacity and thousands more listened outside the tent. Given the surrounding events, Robert departed from his earlier approaches and spoke about the culture of dissent and the need for reasoned opposition to the trade agreements. He argued that rational dialogue around reasonable alternatives is the way forward. When the debate is reduced to the level of “we’re right, you’re wrong,” it is unproductive.
The final text from the first ministers’ Summit provides some recognition of the cultural issues. While the Declaration of Quebec City is largely rhetorical and without substance, it does contain the following statement about cultural diversity:
“We consider the cultural diversity that characterizes our region to be a source of great richness for our societies. Respect for and value of our cultural diversity must be a cohesive factor that strengthens the social fabric and the development of our nations.”
Elsewhere, the Declaration discusses the need to achieve “the full participation of all persons in the political, economic, social and cultural life of our countries.” In the accompanying Action Plan, ministers agreed “to hold a series of seminars among experts, government officials and representatives of civil society on the importance of the linguistic and cultural diversity of the hemisphere” and “to encourage the convocation of a meeting at the (highest levels of government) to discuss cultural diversity with a view to deepening hemispheric cooperation on the issue.”
The job of the cultural sector in the Americas is clear, we must work to ensure that these statements of principle are put into practice.
GENERAL AGREEMENT ON TRADE IN SERVICES – NEGOTIATIONS BEGIN
At its most recent meeting, the WTO GATS Council completed its “stocktaking” exercise and established parameters for the negotiations that now commence. On the positive side, the Council has determined that negotiations will proceed on the same basis as last time, meaning there is little chance that the GATS agreement will be transformed into what is known as a “top-down” agreement. Instead, GATS disciplines will apply only to those services that each country lists in its submission.
This does not mean that the challenges for the cultural sector are over. The US will still push hard to have audiovisual services fully covered and there may be efforts to seek “horizontal” commitments that would apply to all services, whether listed by countries or not. In the “request-offer” style of negotiating that has been launched, the US is free to “request” other countries to make commitments in certain fields, such as broadcasting.
INVESTOR/STATE DISPUTE SETTLEMENT PROVISIONS
The launch of both the FTAA and the GATS negotiations will put into sharp focus a provision of trade agreements that potentially has enormous consequences for the cultural sector. First introduced in the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Article 11, the provision permits individual firms to sue governments where they believe their investments have been adversely affected by government policies.
These provisions have found their way into a range of other agreements, they were contained in the draft Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and they would likely form part of any new WTO agreement that has substantive investment provisions. This could occur as a subset of the GATS talks.
The provisions represent a significant departure from the norms of international law. They give firms the right to enforce a treaty to which they are not party and under which they have no obligations and they extend international commercial arbitration to disputes that have no foundation in contracts.
Three recent cases highlight the sweeping scope of investor rights.
The US-based hazardous waste company, S.D. Meyers, sued Canada over its refusal to permit the export (to the US) of PCBs (a known toxin) for a 16-month period. Canada had banned the exports as part of its implementation of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste that obliges nations to look after their own waste products. The suit by S.D. Meyers succeeded at the dispute settlement panel and Canada has been ordered to pay damages, despite the fact that, at all relevant times, US law prohibited the importation of PCBs. There is clearly a critical lesson in this case for the development of a new global cultural pact.
Another US company, Metalclad, successfully sued the Mexican government over the decision of a municipality to refuse the company permission to open a toxic waste dump on land already heavily contaminated. The Mexican government has appealed the $16 million award to a Canadian court.
In a case just now reaching the dispute settlement stage, UPS, the world’s largest courier company has sued Canada for $160 million. The case concerns Canada Post, the government postal service that owns 50% of one of Canada’s largest package delivery firms. UPS alleges that Canada Post is taking advantage of its monopoly over the delivery of mail to subsidize unfairly its own courier service that competes with UPS. Given that a variety of public services in many countries operate as a hybrid with both public policy and commercial imperatives, there is significant reason to fear this case. For example, most public service broadcasters also act as producers of television and films in direct competition with private producers. Several of them also rely for at least a portion of their revenue on the sale of commercials.
REMINDER ABOUT LUCERNE.
Finally, remember that the next meeting of the INCD will take place this coming September in Lucerne, Switzerland. Make your plans today, and let us know if you can join us in Switzerland, September 21-23. Registration material for the conference will be sent out in the next few days.