Details trickle out about cultural exemptions in Pacific Rim trade deal

Includes cultural exemption that specifically includes web content.

February 2, 2018   by Geordon Omand

OTTAWA — Canada’s heritage minister is shedding light on some of the details contained in the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the federal government agreed to last week.

The revised deal, officially known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, is the first time a Canadian trade deal has included cultural exemptions that specifically include web content, Melanie Joly said.

The absence of protection for digital material is one of the main reasons Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose not to sign the deal in November, Joly said, speaking at a conference hosted by the Canadian Media Producers Association in Ottawa.

“It was a tough battle, but I’m really grateful that it’s a battle we were able to win,” she said.


Few details have been made public since the 11 participating countries approved the Pacific Rim pact on Jan. 23. The deal does not include the United States, which pulled out of negotiations a year ago.

Canada secured cultural exemptions for digital content – online streaming services, primarily – through side letters signed with each of the other countries involved in the deal, which include Australia, Chile, Japan and Brunei.

The exemptions mean Canada would retain the ability to formulate laws around digital content to promote and defend Canadian culture.

Simon Ross, a spokesman for Joly, said Canada would defend its right to make its own laws around Canadian culture if the US expressed an interest in joining the trade deal.

“We’ve shown the world that we are taking this protection of our culture very seriously,” Ross said, adding that cultural exemptions for culture and heritage were the final sticking points to be settled during negotiations.

Michael Geist, a technology expert at the University of Ottawa, said that while earlier trade agreements did not contain specific language protecting digital content, the broad language around cultural protection would have likely applied equally to online material.

“I would have been surprised if the Canadian government would have taken the position that NAFTA doesn’t apply to digital,” he said.

“It’s a cultural exception and the mode of delivery would likely be viewed as secondary.”

Joly was also asked to comment on recent criticism – especially out of Quebec – about a $500-million investment from California-based online streaming service Netflix to establish a Canadian office and fund homegrown content. The announcement was unveiled in September as part of the government’s cultural policy and did not include taxes on streaming services, prompting the Quebec government to pledge to create its own tax on foreign online businesses.

“Being a Quebecois and a francophone, I understand why especially the Quebec population reacted to the deal,” she said.

“There’s a very strong anxiety that has always been there with francophones that actually we need to protect our language and our culture in order to survive.”

Joly said she believes the negative reaction is linked to concern that Netflix may contribute to the assimilation of French culture, given the absence of francophone content offered by the online entertainment company.

“There is no tax exemption that was negotiated. As a government we would never do that,” she added, describing the investment as a net benefit to Canadians.


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