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Auto parts, precious metals, lumber—Canadians have found many ways to export their way to success in the global economy.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Canada also exports billions of dollars in cultural products each year. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada's cultural industries export the equivalent of $5 billion each year. These cultural industries themselves account for as many as 600,000 jobs.
Strangely, Ottawa is taking action that could sabotage the continuing success of these industries.
In 1998, Ottawa helped organize a new global organization known as the International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP).
Few Canadians know of INCP's existence. INCP's liaison bureau operates out of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage's offices in Hull.
INCP's nominal goal is to help its member states to develop strategies to promote cultural diversity, including through government action and public policy.
Canada is just one participant in INCP—some 60 countries claim membership, including France, South Africa and Brazil.
Some INCP members, notably France, want the organization to encourage all member states to use protectionist measures to limit the entry of American cultural products into their markets.
France maintains heavy quotas and restrictions that, according to the United States Trade Representative's office, form a significant barrier to access of U.S. (TV) programs to the French market and limit the broadcast share of American music on French radio stations.
And in 2003, just before an INCP meeting in Paris, France's president, Jacques Chirac, condemned what he called the champions of unlimited trade liberalization (read: Hollywood) for trying to force- feed cultural products pre-formatted for the masses to global consumers.
The French would love it if other INCP members adopted their suspicious attitude toward the worldwide popularity of American movies and sound recordings. People living outside France may not quite realize the depth of this suspicion.
One French commentator has ranked Hollywood with the (U.S.) dollar, Internet technology, (and) missiles as the supposed pillars of America's domination of the world.
In May 2003, for example, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, France's prime minister, told a meeting of French media barons the United States was plotting to invade Europe's TV networks by saturating them with commercials for American movies.
A September 2003 article in Le Monde, France's newspaper of record, described Hollywood as an Anglo-Saxon steamroller, grinding all other cultures into the dust.
And furthermore, a July 2002 editorial on Le Monde actually claimed that the CIA and the Pentagon use Hollywood movies as tools to shape world public opinion.
Would the spread of French-style cultural protectionism through INCP benefit Canada? Hardly.
Where will this new cultural protectionism end, if it gathers momentum?
What if some pro-INCP bureaucrat in another country decides that his country is importing "too many" Canadian cultural products and imposes restrictions on their sale and consumption?
Some of those 600,000 jobs and part of that $5 billion in exports, will be in danger.
Question: Wouldn't Canada's cultural industries be better served if global cultural trade protectionism was reduced, rather than strengthened?
From this perspective, Canada's participation in INCP does not make much sense.
For a country of 30 million people, Canada has been remarkably successful in exporting its own culture abroad. Foreign audiences have come to enjoy Canadian novels, motion pictures, recordings and other cultural products.
It will be much harder to reach those audiences if foreign governments start turning inwards and reduce consumer access to foreign cultural products. But that is exactly what France, through INCP, is out to encourage—greater parochialism and cultural protectionism.
This would represent a step backwards for Canada's hopes to increase its cultural exports and introduce other countries to its values.
The time for Canada to abandon INCP is today.