Cultural Diversity and Regional Trade Agreements: The Case of Audiovisual Services

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UNU Insitute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies
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UNU-CRIS Working Papers
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The difficult relationship between the two global public goods of cultural plurality and international economic integration is often analysed at world level, stressing the jurisdictional overlap between the WTO system and other multilateral regimes. The tension is particularly strong in the audiovisual sector, where technological and economic forces, leading towards a higher degree of international integration, seem to conflict with the need to preserve and develop a plurality of cultural identities. Similar problems arise at regional level. Building on the political economy of international trade negotiations, this paper compares the General Agreement on Trade in Services with the most relevant regional and bilateral trade agreements in the services sector, in order to understand how the double-edged interplay between governments and domestic interest groups affects the trade-off between cultural plurality and international integration. Preferential trade agreements (PTAs) propose different regimes for the governance of cultural diversity, going from an integral ‘cultural exemption’, to a broad liberalization of trade in cultural products. While GATS negotiations in audiovisual services in the Doha Development Agenda have not reached substantial progress, negotiations at preferential level seem to allow for new solutions. A narrower agenda, fewer participants, and specific features of the cultural sector in regional contexts play a major role. PTAs can partially act as a laboratory suggesting solutions to develop in the multilateral trading system, but a WTO-specific approach to cultural goods and services is needed. The existence of non-trade legal instruments settings rules on cultural policies does not create major tensions at the preferential level, and sets further opportunities, as well as hurdles, to improve the multilateral governance of the trade and culture dilemma.

cultural policies, regional integration, audiovisual services.