Negotiators from around the globe are taking tentative steps toward an unprecedented international treaty on cultural diversity that is facing some strong criticism from the United States.


BRUSSELS (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Negotiators from around the globe are taking tentative steps toward an unprecedented international treaty on cultural diversity that is facing some strong criticism from the United States.

The treaty, drafted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, aims to consolidate the protection countries sometimes use to block Hollywood imports and strengthen rules on subsidies and quotas in the name of "cultural diversity."

As the 191 UNESCO members clinched their draft convention in Paris over the June 4 weekend, the U.S. delegate described it as "deeply flawed and fundamentally incompatible with UNESCO's constitutional obligation to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image."

On June 8, the Motion Picture Assn., the foreign arm of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said it would be "highly desirable" to get all parties back to the table on the treaty.

The provisionally named Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions could theoretically enshrine laws that override the existing conventions allowing Hollywood to sell its movies to the world, some observers believe.

The head of the U.S. delegation, Institute of Museum and Library Services director Robert Martin, said the United States came to Paris "fully prepared to help craft an effective instrument to promote cultural diversity. We had hoped for genuine dialogue and true consensus." But instead, Martin said, the United States found the convention was not about culture but actually about trade. "Because it is about trade, this convention clearly exceeds the mandate of UNESCO," he said.

U.S. officials say they fear that by taking the convention through UNESCO and not, say, the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, it gives subsidy and quota-happy countries a chance to introduce powerful protection measures by stealth. They say it is, in fact, an audacious plan to shield local economies from globalization by short-circuiting the usual trade negotiating mechanisms.

The MPA appears much less skeptical on that front however. Bonnie Richardson, VP trade and federal affairs at the MPA, said in an interview that the MPA is fully committed to the concept of cultural diversity. She added that the MPA does not believe there are any "immediate commercial ramifications from this draft -- nor do I believe that it will lead to any immediate or even long-term decisions by governments to restrict Hollywood imports."

However, she added that it misses the mark when it comes to enshrining cultural diversity and welcomed the fact that the door is open for more meetings before the document is ratified.

The convention still has to be agreed on by the UNESCO general assembly in October.

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