Standing Up for Culture in Trade Negotiations

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a strong stance in support of culture in the context of NAFTA negotiations while at a press conference in Surrey, B.C., stating Canada would not sign a renegotiated agreement that doesn’t protect Canada’s cultural industries or includes a dispute resolution mechanism. 

“It would be a giving up of our sovereignty and our identity, and that is something that we will not accept,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. 

In speaking publicly about culture and NAFTA, Mr. Trudeau was doing more than just playing negotiation tactics. He was reaffirming Canada’s long held position that market forces alone cannot guarantee the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity. 

In recent history, Canada has systematically stood up to protect the diversity of cultural expressions within and beyond its borders. The cultural exemption clause was included in the original 1988 Canada-U.S. free trade deal, and was later carried into NAFTA. In 2016, exceptions for culture were enshrined in the preamble and in various chapters of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union. And, earlier this year, protections for culture were also included in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). A renegotiated NAFTA must abide by the same fundamental principles.  

Cultural goods and services aren’t like any other commodities. As vectors of identity, values and meaning, they deserve to be treated with special consideration in all trade agreements. That was true in 1988, before the advent of e-commerce, and online music and video services. It is paramount in 2018. 

Thankfully, Prime Minister Trudeau understands this; it has remained a consistent position of the Canadian government for 30 years. The Canadian Arts Coalition stands firmly with our government and its negotiation team in support of culture.  

Did you know? 

If culture suffers from being left to market forces, cultural trade doesn’t appear to be impeded by protections for culture. In spite of the cultural exemption in NAFTA, the United States remain by far Canada’s largest trading partner for culture products, representing over 60% of culture exports and over 65% of culture imports. And it keeps growing.  Between 2010 and 2016, cultural imports from the United States increased 29% to reach $13.6 billion. During this time, cultural exports from Canada to the United States increased 45% to reach $10.1 billion. 

Source: Statistics Canada, Trade of culture and sport products, 2016 


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