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NZ Govt's position on GATS confusing

New Zealand government's position on GATS confusing to international coalition

"The New Zealand government's hypocrisy on the General Agreement on Trade in
Services (GATS) becomes more extraordinary by the day," Professor Jane Kelsey
told the Second International Meeting of Cultural Professional Organisations in
Paris yesterday.

This followed disclosure by the Member of the European Commission responsible
for culture, Ms Viviane Reding, that New Zealand was one of five countries that
have lodged an "aggressive" request for Europe to commit its cultural services to the GATS rules. Both Ms Reding and the EC's Director General of Trade Hervé Jouanjean expressed their dismay and confusion about New Zealand's position.

Professor Kelsey told delegates how, back in April 2000, our Prime Minister said it was "ridiculous" that the GATS could prevent "perfectly legitimate calls for local content" (NZ Herald 10 April 2000). Just two months ago she acknowledged that concerns about the GATS were valid and the National Government's failure to reserve culture from the GATS was a "matter for regret" (Morning Report, 6 December 2002).

"If it has been a disaster for New Zealand, why on earth is our government demanding that Europe make the same mistake?" Jane Kelsey asked.

"This lack of principle is quite staggering. While our Prime Minister portrays herself as the champion of national culture at home, she has apparently endorsed the opposite position at the World Trade Organisation (WTO)."

Professor Kelsey was invited to Paris by the International Coalition for Cultural Diversity to explain to the meeting of actors, directors, publishers, musicians and other creative artists how the GATS rules are preventing the Labour government from implementing its mandated policy of compulsory local content quotas.

Kelsey explained that there are exit routes but the government lacks the political will to take them. "New Zealand's right to control our essential services continues to be sacrificed for the illusory goal of free trade in agriculture. Our challenge is to create a climate where that trade-off is no longer politically sustainable."

Speaking to the conference delegates, French President Chirac vowed "steadfastly and fiercely to defend culture and creations of the mind from market rules that reduce them to the rank of ordinary merchandise" as the negotiating position of the EC, and endorsed an International Declaration on Cultural Diversity being developed by culture ministers as a vehicle to promote genuine internationalization of culture diversity.

Lebanon's Culture Minister Mr Ghassan Salamé insisted that understanding
between civilizations was essential to reduce conflicts and promote peace, and
condemned the cloning of US nationalism which the GATS represents.

Senegal's Culture Minister Mr Abdou Fall summed up the sentiments of the meeting: "Culture is life and no government has the right to deny that to their people," he said.

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