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Former Quebec minister asks why no cultural exemption in Canada-EU trade deal

Louise Beaudoin

Louise Beaudoin, former Parti Quebecois culture and international relations minister (pictured), and Pascal Rogard, the head of France's Coalition for Cultural Diversity, are asking why Canada and Quebec have given up trying to negotiate a broad cultural exemption in the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Beaudoin, who helped draft the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, is in Paris this week accepting an award from the French coalition. She told Le Devoir that while France seems interested in a "horizontal" (across the board) exemption for culture, the Conservative government and Quebec negotiators have resigned themselves to listing every law or policy that should be excluded from CETA rules. The European Commission has won this battle. Everything that is not included in Canada's reservations for cultural policy would be liberalized.

"Doesn't this way of doing things mean that ipso facto culture has been included in the CETA negotiations?" asks Beaudoin (my translation), who is demanding a public debate on the matter. "I regret that unlike in 1998 there has not been an alliance between the Quebec and France cultural sectors." (1998 was the year that French and Canadian resistance to including culture in the Multilateral Agreement on Investment helped defeat the global investor rights treaty.)

Le Devoir interviews Charles Vallerand of the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity who confirms that they have agreed with the federal government that it could be effective to negotiate exemptions to CETA in a piecemeal way rather than the usual general reservation for all cultural policy. The Canadian coalition is working with federal and provincial negotiators to isolate these measures for listing in Canada's reservations. Vallerand's French counterpart Rollard disagrees with the approach.

"We don't understand why Canada and the EU, founding creators of the UNESCO convention on cultural diversity, cannot agree to rule out entirely culture from the (CETA) negotiations," he told Le Devoir. Rollard is convinced that this weakening of the cultural exemption in CETA will help the European Commission put audio-visual services on the table in its comprehensive trade and investment negotiations with the United States. France has already declared culture a no-go area in those talks, which could begin as early as June.

The UNESCO convention on cultural diversity is a legal document that explicitly recognizes that cultural goods have a double nature -- cultural and economic -- and that traditional trade rules (e.g. WTO, bilateral agreements, investment treaties) should not treat these goods the same as other commercial goods. Canada's broad cultural exemption in all of its trade agreements was a direct response to the UNESCO convention, which was sponsored by Canada and France, took years to negotiate, and was finally approved in 2005.

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