Cultural products present themselves dually, as both commercial objects and assets that convey values and identity. The recently decided WTO case of China – Publications and Audiovisual Products provides an opportunity to examine the interface between the ‘specificity’ of cultural products and the ‘generality’ of trade obligations. Based on the DSB reports, this comment centres its analysis on four key issues: the UNESCO Convention as cultural defence, the application of the ‘public morals exception’ to cultural products, the distinction and overlap between cultural goods and services, and the degree to which culture can determine the ‘likeness’ between imported and domestic cultural products. This comment concludes with remarks on the case decisions, lessons China might have learned, and the necessity of reconciling free trade with cultural diversity in the context of economic globalization.
The flame knows no rest, for it lives in perpetual conflict between two opposite tendencies. On the one hand, it cleaves to its wick, drinking thirstily of the oil that fuels its existence. At the same time, it surges upward, seeking to tear free of its material tether.
– Yanki Tauber, Beyond the Letter of the LawJournal of World Trade