Culture must be a priority at NAFTA talks: industry

ACTRA submitted recommendations to the government this week, following the Trump administration's release of its trade renegotiation objectives.

The Canadian film and television industry is urging the federal government to make the cultural exemption a priority at the upcoming NAFTA renegotiations.

ACTRA this week submitted recommendations to the feds in preparation for the NAFTA talks, which will begin Aug. 16, including requests that the government maintain the cultural exemption and strengthen it by updating the definition of cultural industries.

While the goal of any free trade agreement is to ensure each parties’ national industries are competing on an even playing field, the cultural exemption, which was originally negotiated during free trade talks with the U.S. in the 1980s, allows the government to continue to support its cultural industries through everything from subsidies to Cancon requirements.

Without the exemption, Elliott Anderson, director of public policy, research and communications at ACTRA told Playback Daily, the “whole suite of government policies that ensure that Canadians are actually able to see Canadian stories on our screens would just have to be discarded.”

Moreover, ACTRA argued that the definition of what is covered by the cultural exemption needs to be updated to ensure that current and future industry sectors and media are covered. Currently, said Anderson, there’s uncertainty over whether sectors like video games and VR – which weren’t mainstream when the agreement was first negotiated – are covered.

In an interview with Playback Daily, the DGC’s director of policy Dave Forget echoed these sentiments. “The work Canada has to do is more than simply preserve the exemption, but they could arguably make this even more effective,” he said.

On Monday, the Trump administration released an 18-page document outlining its NAFTA renegotiation objectives.

While the cultural exemption was not specifically addressed, ACTRA’s submission to the government outlined a number of potentially concerning directives that could have significant effects on the culture sector.

Regarding investment, the U.S. stated it seeks to establish rules that would eliminate barriers to U.S. investment in all sectors. Without a cultural exemption, ACTRA argues, this would include the broadcasting, cable, distribution and telecommunication industries.

“While ownership limits in certain areas may no longer be relevant, in others, such as broadcasting and cable, these remain important to achieving objectives related to the production and distribution of Canadian content,” the submission states.

The U.S. also singled out state-owned enterprises (SOE), stating that SOEs should not be able to discriminate when it comes to the purchase and sale of goods and services, and should also act in accordance with commercial considerations when buying and selling.

The CBC is one such SOE. “Appropriately, it discriminates in favour of Canadian producers and Canadian content productions, and does not act solely ‘in accordance with commercial considerations,’” states the ACTRA submission. Rather, the CBC is mandated by the Broadcasting Act to ensure Canadians and Canadian stories are reflected on screen.

“Any provision related to State-owned enterprises must be subject to Canada’s cultural exception and must thus exclude the CBC and other cultural agencies maintained by federal, provincial and municipal governments,” states the submission.

For its part, the CMPA told Playback Daily it’s currently reviewing the American objectives and working with members to determine potential risks and opportunities for producers, adding that Canada “must maintain cultural sovereignty over our production sector.”