Government policies to protect and promote national culture are a perennial issue in the trading system. Controversy over trade and culture, in almost every instance, swirls around entertainment media—mainly movies, television, video, and music. The object of contention is that many states employ an assortment of financial, trade, and regulatory measures to subsidize locally produced entertainment, restrict imports, and favor national content over foreign content. Such measures often impede trade, pitting commercial interests in open markets and free choice against calls for state action to mitigate trade’s social repercussions. Differing perspectives on the motives behind these policies typify disputes over trade and culture. In one view, state regulation of entertainment media is cultural policy, an essential means of preserving a nation’s identity, culture, and way of life. From another vantage point, these policies are backdoor protectionism, a handout to local business and labor under the guise of cultural preservation. The problem of trade and culture therefore raises basic questions about politics: Why do states subsidize production and restrict imports? What drives political demands for trade protection and government aid? How can variation in policy responses be understood? In the World Trade Organization (WTO), disputes over trade and culture center on two related issues. The first is inclusion of a “cultural exception” in trade rules to green-light, on cultural grounds, state actions that interfere with trade in entertainment media. Although there is no cultural exception in the WTO, pressure to accommodate the “specificity” of entertainment media as a cultural phenomenon has complicated trade negotiations and at times required give and take to placate the opposing sides. The second issue is policy liberalization in entertainment media, which has lagged behind market opening in many other goods and services. Deadlock over trade and culture has inspired some WTO members to explore other options: the European Union (EU) and Canada spearheaded the push for a Convention on Cultural Diversity, and the United States has pursued policy liberalization in a series of free trade agreements. Important political questions again crop up: Why has culture stalemated the WTO, and why haven’t trade linkages like those for health safety standards been institutionalized for trade and culture? Why do international political alignments on this problem form as they do? What explains the design of trade rules for entertainment media, and what is the trade regime’s impact on state policy? The age-old conflict over trade and culture continues to play out and shows no signs of abating.
Kerry A. Chase
In 1958, the European Economic Community was formed as a customs union with a common external tariff. From then on, the Common Commercial Policy—also known as the European Union’s (EU) trade policy—served as the interface between the increasingly integrated common market and its external trade partners. Like the creation of the single market, contemporary trade policy has long transcended discussions about tariffs and quotas at the border and has focused increasingly on the impediments to trade caused by regulatory divergences. Whether they concern agricultural subsidies or cultural protections, rules on public procurement or food standards, insofar as a regulation discriminates against exporters, it can potentially be part of a trade negotiation. The evolving nature of trade policy has triggered a redefinition of both the scope of the EU’s exclusive competencies as well as the procedures to govern this policy domain. The central actor in EU trade policy is the European Commission, which is the designated negotiator for external trade agreements. Whereas member states always played a crucial role in overseeing such negotiations in the Council, the European Parliament has only taken up a position of power since 2009. Beyond securing market access abroad and protecting domestic sectors at home, post-material values have come to feature more prominently in the balancing act of contemporary trade discussions. This has galvanized a far wider range of societal actors to lobby the EU institutions in order to tilt the balance in their favor. Complicating matters even further, the EU conducts a large part of its foreign policy through the Common Commercial Policy. Contrary to most other instruments of the EU’s external action, trade policy is an exclusive competency of the EU. Fostering development, promoting stability, providing humanitarian aid, and the promotion and enforcement of human rights and sustainable development commitments are but a few of the many objectives pursued via trade policy. However, there are clear limitations to the fungibility of the EU’s large market power for foreign policy objectives. It should therefore be clear that the literature on the Common Commercial Policy is extremely diverse. Situated at the nexus of international political economy, regulatory governance, and foreign policy, it has become a well-studied policy domain through a great variety of theoretical and disciplinary lenses. The prominence of trade scholarship in EU studies is unlikely to change soon as developments at the international level, where the Western liberal order is under increasing pressure, but also domestically, where the contestation of several trade negotiations and the position of trade policy within the EU’s broader external action, are set to animate future debates.
Integration attempts in Latin America have historically been linked to the European experience. Transatlantic influence has gone from policy learning through institutional mimicry to direct funding. Modern Latin American regionalism dates back to 1960, when the Central American Common Market and the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA) were founded. Both associations were a response to the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957 and the fear that “Fortress Europe” would cut extra-regional markets off, so alternatives should be developed. The Latin American blocs aspired to overcome the small size of the national markets by fostering economies of scale. Shortly thereafter, European-born, U.S.-based political scientist Ernst Haas—jointly with Philippe Schmitter—put to the test the neofunctionalist theory he had developed for Europe to analyze Central American integration, correctly diagnosing the latter’s limitations and forecasting its setbacks. LAFTA also faltered and failed and, in 1980, the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI by its Spanish acronym) replaced it. A decade later, ALADI would become MERCOSUR’s umbrella organization. After the third wave of democratization, which in Latin America started in 1978, new attempts at regional integration took hold, and MERCOSUR was initially considered as the most successful. Successive leaders of the European Union (EU) nurtured big hopes and devoted a great deal of attention to EU–MERCOSUR relations, first assisting with integration technology, material resources, and intellectual guidance and, since 1995, conducting several rounds of negotiations to strike a trade deal. The path that had led to MERCOSUR resembled that of the EU, as it started in 1985 with functional and sectoral integration (wheat and oil prominently, in place of coal and steel) around the Argentina–Brazil axis. A few years later, in 1991, the binational association was opened up to Paraguay and Uruguay and transformed itself into a typical Balassa-like organization, prioritizing broader market integration over focused sectoral integration—just like the Treaty of Rome had done in Europe. Intra-regional trade tripled during the first seven years, but it later stagnated and never bounced back. As a result, the member states decided to up the rhetorical ante and broaden the areas encompassed by the organization rather than fostering economic interdependence or deepening the level of regional authority. An optional tribunal and a powerless parliament were established in 2002 and 2005 respectively. The outcome was grim: more institutions on paper did not enhance performance in practice. Having exhausted the internal agenda, the external agenda remained the only one where positive developments were still expected. In 2019, after twenty years of bumping negotiations, a political agreement on a comprehensive trade deal was reached with the European Union, MERCOSUR’s role model and largest trade partner. If this agreement is signed and ratified, it will become the largest interregional arrangement ever.