Trade and Culture: Keep the Border Fuzzy, Please

33 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2009

Date Written: February 1, 2009


The relationship between trade and culture can be singled-out and deservedly labelled as unique in the discussion of 'trade and ...' issues. The reasons for this exceptional quality lie in the intensity of the relationship, which is indeed most often framed as 'trade versus culture' and has been a significant stumbling block, especially as audiovisual services are concerned, in the Uruguay Round and in the subsequent developments. The second specificity of the relationship is that the international community has organised its efforts in a rather effective manner to offset the lack of satisfying solutions within the framework of the WTO. The legally binding UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is a clear sign of the potency of the international endeavour, on the one hand, and of the (almost desperate) desire to contest the existing WTO norms in the field of trade and culture, on the other. A third distinctive characteristic of the pair 'trade and culture', which is rarely mentioned and blissfully ignored in any Geneva or Paris talks, is that while the pro-trade and pro-culture opponents have been digging deeper in their respective trenches, the environment where trade and cultural issues are to be regulated has radically changed. The emergence and spread of digital technologies have modified profoundly the conditions for cultural content creation, distribution and access, and rendered some of the associated market failures obsolete, thus mitigating to a substantial degree the 'clash' nature of trade and culture.

Against this backdrop, the present paper analyses in a finer-grained manner the move from 'trade and culture' towards 'trade versus culture'. It argues that both the domain of trade and that of culture have suffered from the aspirations to draw clearer lines between the WTO and other trade-related issues, charging the conflict to an extent that leaves few opportunities for practical solutions, which in an advanced digital setting would have been feasible.

Keywords: Trade, culture, cultural diversity, the WTO, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, audiovisual media services, digital media

Suggested Citation

Burri, Mira, Trade and Culture: Keep the Border Fuzzy, Please (February 1, 2009). NCCR Trade Regulation Working Paper No. 2009/2, Available at SSRN: or

Mira Burri (Contact Author)

University of Lucerne ( email )

Frohburgstrasse 3
PO Box 4466
Lucerne, 6002


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