Unesco Convention on Cultural Diversity in the Making

March 2005 -

Is the protection of cultural diversity in a globalising world still a viable option? Unesco puts this to the test with the Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions. But the run-up to the international convention has not been smooth at all.

Unesco’s initiative should lead to a Kyoto-like protocol for culture. The negative effects of globalisation, such as cultural homogeneity, require a counterbalance. Unesco’s 190 member states have been debating this since October 2003. In the autumn of 2005, a first edition of the convention should be presented.

Similar to the international environmental convention, economic interests play a role behind the idealistic views. The United States and India are also the fiercest opponents in this case. Hollywood and Bollywood could decline because of trade limitations and protection measures. Moreover, both countries believe that cultural diversity thrives best within the freedom of a globalised economy.

As notable protectors of their own cultural industries, France and Canada have succeeded in keeping culture outside the domain of the World Trade Organization. The adoption of the Unesco convention would be their ultimate success because conventions like these are binding: protection measures with respect to culture, such as tax benefits and subsidies, are not contestable at the WTO.

France and Canada, who are supported by most of the member states, are in a hurry with the convention: in 2006 the new WTO negotiation talks on free trade will begin. But the opposition by the USA and India seems to stand in the way of a fast agreement.