Expanding trade flows of cultural goods and services

2 February 2009

According to UNCTAD, world trade in creative goods and services are among the most dynamic sectors of the multilateral trading system. From 2000 to 2005, the sector experienced an impressive annual growth rate of 8.7%, reaching USD 424.4 billion (1). Yet, despite their abundance of creative talents and rich cultural assets, developing countries – including the ACP – are not yet benefiting from the huge potential of their creative industries to promote economic growth, job creation, social inclusion, and export earnings. Paradoxically, developing countries are big net importers of cultural products. The total share of Caribbean countries in world markets remains insignificant, even if some countries – in particular Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Dominican Republic, and Barbados – have already taken steps to start shaping a creative-economy strategy. But this situation has the potential to be improved and all opportunities to do so should be seized.

The EPA is one such opportunity. The CARIFORUM-EU EPA, finalised in mid-October of last year, has two instruments that can be used by the Caribbean community to foster the cultural sector and entertainment services: (i) market access commitments by the European states for entertainment services from CARIFORUM states that are governed by the rules of the “Services and Investment” chapter and the general provisions of the EPA; and (ii) a special “Protocol on Cultural Cooperation” (2). This protocol has the potential to generate substantial development and trade gains if effectively implemented as a mechanism for strengthening institutional, regulatory, and supply capacities. It also provides for bilateral cooperation on all cultural fronts with special provisions on the audio-visual sector.

In addition, the EPAs made an important step forward by allowing for Caribbean firms to invest in entertainment activities in Europe and vice-versa, which is expected to facilitate join-ventures, partnerships, and cooperation. Inspired by this cultural collaboration, a multi-agency pilot project was launched in 2008 to enhance the economic, social, and cultural potential of the creative industries in other ACP states, beyond the Caribbean. Today, five ACP countries – Fiji, Mozambique, Senegal, Trinidad & Tobago, and Zambia – are participating in this project, which brings a new holistic approach to dealing with the interface of economic, social, and cultural aspects for development. Designed through collaboration among three United Nations agencies, namely UNCTAD, ILO, and UNESCO, the initiative is funded by the European Commission as part of the EU-ACP support programme for cultural industries.

In many developing countries the performance and competitiveness of the creative industries have suffered from weak institutional and political support, low levels of entrepreneurial capability, low added value, over-dependence on foreign firms, and massive copyright infringement. Employment and earnings, however, could be enhanced if the industry were more effectively organized, if supply capacities and cultural entrepreneurship were strengthened, and if new market opportunities, at national and international levels, were exploited more fully. The new project is expected to respond to these needs of the participating countries by offering policy advice and capacity-building activities. By nurturing the creative industries, the budding project aims at enhancing the music, visual and performing arts, publishing, cultural festivals, and other creative sectors through target activities over the next three years, until 2011. In this way, it hopes to transform local talent into a catalyst for dynamic creative industries that can foster economic growth, employment, and trade expansion while promoting the linkages between culture, trade, and development.

Author: The author is Chief of the Creative Economy Programme at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Geneva. This article however, was written on her personal capacity and reflects her personal views, which are not necessarily the official views of the UNCTAD Secretariat or its Member States.

1. See: UNCTAD Global databank on world trade of creative goods and services, www.unctad.org/creative-programme
2 See: Trade in Services and Development Implications, UNCTAD, Geneva, 2007 (TD/B/COM.1/85)

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