unctad.org | Excerpts from the statement to the Expert Meeting on Audiovisual Services: Improving participation of developing countries
Statement by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Excerpts from the statement to the Expert Meeting on Audiovisual Services: Improving participation of developing countries
12 Nov 2002

I would like to welcome all of you to UNCTAD´s Expert Meeting on "Audiovisual services: Improving participation of developing countries". This is not the first time that UNCTAD has worked in partnership with other specialized UN agencies and organizations in addressing multifaceted issues involving trade and development. I am honoured to have with us Mr. Marcio Barbosa, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, and would like to thank UNESCO through him for the excellent cooperation and help it has provided in the preparation of this important meeting. I am also pleased to have the participation of the Director of the Services Division of WTO, whose presence here and contribution to this meeting are evidence of the spirit of cooperation and complementarity informing the work of both organizations.

Importance of audiovisual services

Audiovisual services encompass the full chain of services in the supply of motion picture and video, radio and television, and music products. These services, however, are not merely tradeables. Their significance goes way beyond the economic sphere, for four main reasons:

  • Because of the ease of dissemination, vast outreach and instant appeal, audiovisual services have become the most powerful and pervasive medium of cultural expression. They enable cultural heritage to be not only preserved but also reinvented in contemporary form of setting.

  • In developing countries this sector plays a key role in nation-building and in delineating the core values of society that hold often diverse nations and peoples together. It is also a means of education, delivering ideas and raising consciousness about public goods. It can enable a country to foster cultural identity whilst allowing space for cultural diversity and for the absorption and adaptation of useful elements from other cultures.

  • Considering that "the media is the message", the potential of audiovisual services to act as a tool of what is acknowledged as "soft power" makes this a politically sensitive and culturally emotive issue irrespective of whether developed or developing countries are involved. There is fear about the imposition of alien political agendas, of a conquest of the mind and of being culturally swamped by dominant providers of audiovisual services.

  • The audiovisual services have been increasing their scope and impact with every turn and improvement of technology and have become associated in the public mind with globalization as one of its most potent and pervasive symbols and carriers. This means that any globalization-related paradigm has to look carefully at the sector´s multifarious implications.

Apart from these unique features of audiovisual services, which raise their importance and render them even more complex, their economic and commercial value is also significant. In terms of value added to GDP, employment creation in both the formal and informal sectors, and international trade, the sector has major implications for development. It is also one in which most developing countries can build their capacity, although participation in international trade involves quite another calculus.

Prerequisites for participation of developing countries in international trade in audiovisual services

It involves on one hand a major domestic regulatory challenge, often in the face of technological circumvention, and sometimes with the help of technology. On the other hand, it requires that they build a critical mass of domestic industry and competitiveness. They must have the ability to penetrate the production and distribution networks in foreign markets and overcome cultural and political barriers whilst counteracting anticompetitive practices of foreign service providers and enterprises in this field. Hence the importance of a multilateral framework of rules, which is supportive of developing country aspirations for effective participation in international trade in audiovisual services. Many developing countries have shown the way through their success in a number of audiovisual areas. For example, India´s film industry produces the largest number of feature films in the world -- nearly 1,000 a year is cost-competitive and is building up a robust export market using expatriate Indian communities as seed audiences and distribution channels. Thus, although most of the industry´s revenues are generated within India, there is a rapidly increasing foreign component, and over a billion people in all parts of the world now watch Indian films. Similarly, a number of Latin American countries (particularly Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela) have been very successful in selling their telenovelas to foreign TV networks. Success stories can also be found at the regional level - for example, Egypt in regard to the Arab world - and in other areas of audiovisual services, such as music products from Africa (especially Mali, Senegal and South Africa). But much remains to be done to replicate and extend this success, in terms of both endogenous efforts and exogenous conditions.

UNCTAD´s purpose and role in the context of ongoing MTNs

This Expert Meeting, yesterday´s high-level panel, and UNCTAD´s analysis of trade in audiovisual services are part of the larger body of work mandated to and carried out by UNCTAD in this crucial area. Apart from horizontal issues in services negotiations, UNCTAD has made it its vocation to undertake sector-specific and in-depth work, which I believe has greater urgency and value now, given the state of play in the services negotiations. Despite the statistics-related inadequacy in this area of services, UNCTAD has made an attempt, through consultations with delegations, empirical research and national and regional studies, to do the following:

  • Outline the status of the audiovisual industry and its main market features and the opportunities arising from technological advances, including through the "convergence" of telecommunications and media;

  • Explain the nature and pattern of international trade in this area and attempt an inventory of measures affecting exports of developing countries;

  • Identify substantive issues and developmental implications of the sector, from both the domestic and international trade point of view for developing countries;

  • Posit this subsector in the context of the services negotiations and the MTNs and, in the light of the sector´s sui generis nature, complexities and sensitivities, examine in specific ways how best to proceed towards its progressive liberalization under GATS whilst safeguarding and promoting the development dimension;

  • Clarify audiovisual sector-related provisions in the GATT vis-à-vis GATS framework provisions and address such key questions as MFN exemptions, national treatment and emergency safeguard mechanisms, as well as how to deal with situations that may be likened to dumping, subsidies, anti-competitive practices, etc;

  • Identify specific methods and approaches that could be followed to balance the interests of developed and developing, exporting and importing countries, for this is one of the areas where interests cut across traditional development faultlines;

  • Highlight the cross-linkages between this subsector and multilateral rulemaking, not only with other services sectors but also with other MTAs and processes ongoing in the WTO, including subsidies, safeguards, anti-dumping, government procurement, TRIPS, ITA, and discussions in the working groups on investment, competition policy and technology transfer.

  • Find a way to establish an equilibrium between trade liberalization and cultural integrity, not only for developing but also for developed countries, and to reflect that in the negotiating process and outcome in this sector.

Contribution of audiovisual services to increased and effective participation of developing countries

This Expert Meeting and the negotiations on audiovisual services have special significance for another reason, too. It has been very difficult to identify services sectors of export interest to developing countries and consequently to help in the implementation of Article IV of GATS, which provides for their increasing participation in international trade in services through both supply side measures and special market access provisions in their favour. The audiovisual services sector is one area where many developing countries have existing and potential capacity to export but where they need positive measures to be taken by developed countries to enhance their participation. In a way, then, this is one of the test cases for the effective implementation of Articles IV and XIX.2. This is also a sector where, given the right conditions and because of inherent cultural affinities within and across regions, there is considerable scope for interregional and South-South trade. It is in everyone´s interest to make a concerted effort to help realize these objectives.

Expectations from the Expert Meeting

At this meeting, we expect a frank and open discussion and consequent awareness-raising on the issues highlighted in our background document. Your views and experiences should provide further guidance to countries and delegations in better focusing the debate and negotiations here in Geneva and elsewhere. In keeping with UNCTAD´s analytical and consensus-building role, we hope the meeting will indicate whether the sector is amenable to a sector-specific protocol under the GATS in the WTO. Additionally, we expect your deliberations to guide countries in assessing and responding to the requests received and in formulating their own positions in the negotiations.


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