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Chrystia Freeland to stress importance of cultural protections at NAFTA dinner

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister will be showing off Ottawa’s newly renovated National Arts Centre when she hosts her U.S. and Mexican counterparts for a NAFTA dinner on Tuesday.

But the location has been picked for more than just the ambience.

A government source told CBC News that Chrystia Freeland plans to use the backdrop to stress Canada’s desire to keep protections for its arts and cultural sectors within NAFTA. 

The source said it will be the perfect venue to demonstrate the importance of Canadian art and culture and explain why certain protections are necessary.

Freeland has previously signalled that arts and culture are a priority for Canada in its NAFTA renegotiations.

In August, Freeland said the government “will uphold and preserve the elements in NAFTA that Canadians deem key to our national interest.”

Among those elements are the “exception in the agreement to preserve Canadian culture.”

NAFTA includes a cultural exception clause, which means cultural goods are not treated like other commercial products. 

The Canadian Arts Coalition is strongly in favour of keeping that measure within the trade deal. 

National Arts Centre, Ottawa

The newly renovated National Arts Centre will be the venue for the dinner that’s held during the third round of NAFTA talks Tuesday. (Katie Simpson)

“In a modernized NAFTA, the cultural exception must enable Canada to implement any necessary measure to ensure accessibility and discoverability of quality Canadian cultural content in a digital world,” the group stated on its website. 

The organization, which has met with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly on this issue, is also calling for stronger copyright protections and “maintaining rules that ensure Canadian owned and controlled firms are protected.”

While the U.S. has not specifically targeted Canada’s cultural sectors in its list of NAFTA demands, changes around copyright, the digital economy and other technical issues could have implications for the industry.

Ronald Reagan connection

Tuesday’s dinner will be the third of its kind since NAFTA renegotiations began.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer hosted a similar dinner in Washington, with Mexican officials doing the same near the end of the second round of talks.

The government source said the National Arts Centre was also selected for another reason: President Ronald Reagan once delivered a speech in the building.

The Canadian delegation is hoping to put its U.S. guests at ease by sharing a few warm stories about that visit.

CBC | Politics News