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Set up in 1998, the “International Network on Cultural Policy” (INCP) brings together the culture ministers of 57 countries from around the world. This network instigated the draft “International Convention on the Protection of Cultural Diversity”, which is currently being drawn up by UNESCO. Jean-Pierre Blais, Deputy Minister, International and Intergovernmeal Affairs, Department of Canadian Heritage, Canada.and a Canadian representative within the network, explains that this text aims to “make cultural diversity compatible with globalisation”.
20 October 2003
Question: What is the state of preparation of this draft convention, and what are its main features?
Jean-Pierre Blais: It has just received almost unanimous support from UNESCO’s member states. The convention is intended to enable all countries to conduct their own cultural policies even if these run counter to the principles of the World Trade Organisation. For example, the United States has criticised Canada for subsidising certain Canadian magazines and publications, since, in their opinion, this put American publishers at a disadvantage. However, our subsidies are intended to promote the unique features of Canadian culture, and consequently we believe that this cultural requirement should not be governed by the same rules as other trade sectors. Many countries are now facing similar problems with regard to support for publishers, artists or museums.
Question: But isn’t there a risk that these measures will be described as protectionist or seen as a return to nationalist policies?
Jean-Pierre Blais: Indeed. There must be full transparency in all areas, but also respect for minorities and for human rights. The aim is to give a voice to all cultures, and certainly not to promote “national” policies alone. At the same time, of course, we must continue to open up to the rest of the world and to preserve all existing forms of heritage. Here, our concerns coincide with those of the Council of Europe, which will now be more closely associated with our work in its capacity of observer.
Question: Apart from the Convention, have you other tangible proposals for promoting this cultural diversity?
Jean-Pierre Blais: Our network is deliberately informal, and can meet and react very quickly. The culture ministers put forward new ideas, which we evaluate and then recommend to all our member countries if we believe they can be of use. Examples include funding methods and partnerships for opening museums or organising exhibitions, as well as measures to support publishing, and especially the press. For example, we believe that although large press groups enjoy a competitive advantage, especially on an international scale, they should not stifle smaller newspapers, particularly at regional level. We have a responsibility to come up with measures to maintain this balance and cultural diversity, even if it means freeing ourselves from trade principles as defined by the WTO. Culture is not a “commodity”, and consequently it needs special policies: we should like UNESCO to do for culture what the WTO does for trade.