Culture in the EU's external trade policy and the WTO

Turning to the actual implementation of the UNESCO Convention in the EU's external relations and the high hopes that emerged to counterbalance WTO developments regarding culture, Chapter 14 shows that not much has happened since the UNESCO Convention became operational. Any 'offensive' action from the EU to force the Convention into proceedings in the WTO is hardly to be expected for several reasons.

First, the EU position as it stands in the WTO with regard to cultural and audiovisual policy is quite robust. As a consequence of specific practices in the WTO, especially with regard to the General agreement on trade in services, the EU is still able to engage (or not) with the liberalisation of the sectors in question largely on its self-defined terms. Second, a demarche with regard to the politically sensitive issue of trade and culture would hardly contribute to a renewed dynamism in the seemingly never-ending Doha Round. Moreover, there is no clearly articulated challenge from EU trading partners in the WTO that would like to proceed with the liberalisation of sectors, goods and services related to cultural diversity. Third, the implementation of the UNESCO Convention itself is unfolding. Concrete action to define the relationship between the Convention and the WTO presupposes fleshing out the rights and obligations that the Convention puts forward. In other words, the place of the UNESCO Convention as the cultural pillar in global governance needs to be thought through and reinforced by means of the current implementation process, that progresses in small steps. From the EU's viewpoint, one of these steps is the further development and discussion of its strategies with regard to the implementation of the UNESCO Convention, both internally and in its external relations. A learning process has been initiated but needs to be continued before it can act convincingly, with one voice, in all processes that are being dealt with in the multilateral trade forum (Pauwels and Loisen, 2010: 175-176).

This is not to say, however, that the implementation of the UNESCO Convention has no consequences at all with regard to processes in other forums such as the WTO. The EU's implementation of the UNESCO Convention needs to be seen more on the level of capacity building and empowering stakeholders to raise issues regarding the diversity of cultural expressions at all levels of governance - including the WTO. The entry into force of the UNESCO Convention and its steadily increasing ratification can be viewed as legitimising the European position in the WTO. In addition, it allows the EU to convince others, for example in procedures for the accession of countries to the WTO, of the necessity of the Convention as the global cultural pillar in international governance - the latter in accordance with Article 21 of the UNESCO Convention. Article 21 on international consultation and coordination requires parties to the Convention to promote its objectives and principles in other international forums, such as the WTO. In the context of Article 20 of the Convention, which outlines the relation of the Convention to other treaties, including where there is a conflict of norms,4 the Commission feels strengthened to refrain from commitments in the WTO that would jeopardise the balance with regard to the dual nature of the diversity of cultural expressions. In turn, the EU does not ask for commitments of its trading partners in the case of cultural and audiovisual services. Moreover, the obligation of promoting the Convention, also in a WTO context, can be fulfilled in cases where important topics are under negotiation (e.g. with regard to the debate on Most Favoured Nation exemptions or subsidies) (Pauwels and Loisen, 2010: 175-176). It may also play a role in cases where a dispute is brought to the WTO's dispute settlement system - although in the China - Publications and audiovisual products case (WTO, 2009) China's reference to the UNESCO Convention or the Universal declaration on cultural diversity has had little effect (Neuwirth, 2010: 1351-1352).

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