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Canada/EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement : What are the cultural implications?

CCA Bulletin 9/10

March 22, 2010



Just the facts


In May 2009, Canada and the European Union (EU) announced the launch of negotiations for a comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA).  After several negotiating sessions, the parties are on track to conclude the agreement this year, although there are some controversial topics remaining.


The Canadian government has released no information about CETA.  From various European sources, we know that the scope of the proposed Agreement is very broad.  Negotiators are considering issues that could have an impact on Canadian cultural policies including:


  • Copyright.
  • Restrictions which limit foreign firms from establishing in Canada or acquiring Canadian companies in film, broadcasting, publishing and the music industries.
  • The right of foreign investors to challenge decisions by governments in Canada, including those affecting culture.


Given the government’s intentions expressed in the latest Throne Speech regarding foreign ownership, there is cause for concern. A possible future deepened economic agreement between Canada and Europe could also include a framework for cultural cooperation, as favoured by the Québec government.


The Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA) has joined with other groups to call on the Canadian government to release full details about what is being negotiated.  The cultural sector may have a stake in these negotiations but we cannot know the extent until our government is transparent.


Tell me more


Canada has the most comprehensive cultural policies in the world.  Governments at every level and parties of all stripes have implemented policies that try to level the playing field for Canadian artists, cultural producers, and distributors.  Stretching back to the negotiation of the 1988 Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), there have been concerns that applying rules designed for trade in other goods and services to culture will unduly restrict the ability of our governments to modify cultural policies and implement new ones in response to important developments.


CCA has played an important role over the years and it released a significant study on the potential consequences for Canada’s cultural policies of the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment in October 1997.  That study showed how investment rules could affect virtually every cultural policy.


The cultural consequences of CETA are unlikely to be as significant as other bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations.  This is the case because European governments have many rules in the cultural field; for example, all European countries mandate European content on television and encourage it in new media.  But there are some areas where Canadian policies differ from those in Europe and these differences create potential challenges for Canadian policies.


1. Most European countries have implemented the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet treaties, while Canada has not.  It is clear that Europe will not agree to CETA unless Canada does likewise.  Some in the Canadian cultural sector believe this would be a good thing, others are not so sure.


2. Europe does not have extensive limits on foreign ownership of cultural industry firms, while Canada has policies in the music industry, broadcasting, cable, film distribution and the publishing industry.  Europe also has some very large music, media and publishing companies, including Germany’s Bertelsmann; France’s Vivendi and Lagardère; and Britain’s EMI, Reed Elsevier and Pearson.  Europe may well attempt to harmonize Canada’s rules with those in Europe, which would dismantle the protections that some Canadian companies have enjoyed for decades.


3. CETA will likely contain an investment chapter, providing enforceable rights to foreign investors.  If this chapter, like NAFTA, allows a foreign company to sue the Canadian government for any decision that negatively affects its investment in Canada, there may be serious consequences for Canadian cultural policies.  For example, a European publishing company could challenge a future decision of the Canadian government respecting our book or magazine publishing policies.


The key proponents of the UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions expected that it would carve out trade in cultural goods and services from the trade agreements.  Canada, the EU and most European states are parties to the Convention.  However, there is nothing in that Convention which prohibits Canada and Europe from agreeing to do whatever they want in the cultural field.  Thus the CCA will continue to carefully monitor developments around CETA.


What can I do?


Using this letter as a template, you can write to your MP and to the Ministers of Heritage and International Trade to support CCA’s call for disclosure on the CETA negotiations.