UNESCO convention takes effect


BRUSSELS -- A United Nations convention that gives nations broader power to protect their films, music and other cultural activities has formally come into force despite U.S. objections.

The convention on cultural diversity, drafted by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, aims to consolidate the protection countries sometimes use to block Hollywood imports and subsidize their own movies and broadcasting. It took effect Sunday after months of bitter talks in which U.S. negotiators warned that it will give quota- and subsidy-happy countries license to ignore long-established trade rules.

U.S. officials have warned that, by taking the convention through Paris-based UNESCO as opposed to the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, it gives countries a chance to introduce powerful protection measures under the radar.

The 40-page treaty upholds the "sovereign right" of countries to protect and promote "the diversity of cultural expressions" and requires this to be taken into account in applying other accords, such as WTO rules. In other words, it gives countries legal cover to limit U.S. movies, or even ban them. The treaty does not create any new laws or instruments to protect films, but the U.S. fears that it could override the existing conventions that allow Hollywood to sell entertainment to the world.

It was provisionally adopted in the face of strong protests from the U.S. and eventually approved by 148 of the 154 UNESCO members. To date, 52 countries have ratified the convention.