Audiovisual services

Audiovisual services have experienced dynamic growth in recent years. Technological developments have allowed for greater quantities of content to be delivered and have given customers more control over what they want to consume and when.



Audiovisual services include motion picture and video tape production and distribution services, motion picture projection services, radio and television services, radio and television transmission services, and sound recording.


back to top

Current commitments and exemptions  

Audiovisual services is one of the sectors where the number of WTO members with commitments is the lowest (30, as of 31 January 2009), although many of the most important producers have some commitments. Commitments tend to be more numerous in movie-related services than in TV and radio-related services. The sector is also characterized by a high number of exemptions to most-favoured nation (MFN) treatment (i.e. non-discrimination). These relate, for example, to film co-productions.

For consolidated information on countries’ commitments and exemptions on audiovisual services go to the services database. If you are seeking the commitments of a specific WTO member, go to “Jump to a specific sector for a given Member”, select audiovisual services from the sector dropdown list, select the Member of interest and click “go”. To see a table showing which Members have made commitments in audiovisual services choose “See which Members have made commitments in a specific sector”, select Audiovisual services and click “go”.


back to top

Current negotiations 

Audiovisual services are included in the new services negotiations, which began in January 2000. The principles of trade in audiovisual services are contained, as for all services, in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Three negotiating proposals on audiovisual services were submitted (by the United States, Switzerland and Brazil) in the first years of the services negotiations. Later, in 2005, prior to the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, a joint statement on the negotiations on audiovisual services was circulated by the delegations of Hong Kong, China; Japan; Mexico; Chinese Taipei; and the United States.

The proposals and ensuing discussions touched on a number of classification and regulatory issues, but focused mostly on market access. Delegations calling for further liberalization lamented the low number of members with commitments in the sector and highlighted the key barriers they wished to see reduced, e.g. content quotas, economic needs tests (a test using economic criteria to decide whether the entry into the market of a foreign firm is warranted) ownership restrictions, nationality-residency requirements. MFN exemptions, which are particularly numerous in this sector, were also raised in discussions.

Delegations generally recognized that audiovisual services have both commercial and cultural components. Several delegations considered that governments' economic and cultural considerations could be reconciled in the GATS, in particular given the flexibility at the time of scheduling commitments, although others felt otherwise.

For information on the negotiating objectives expressed by members, consult the Annexes to the Reports by the Chair of the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services to the Trade Negotiations Committee in 2005 (TN/S/20 and TN/S/23).


Following the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of December 2005, a group of developing and developed members prepared a plurilateral request for audiovisual services.

The request focuses on services related to motion pictures and sound recording. Essentially, it seeks commitments on Mode 1 (services supplied from one country to another) and Mode 2 (consumption of a service in another country), reflecting the level of de facto openness.

For Mode 3 (a foreign company setting up subsidiaries or branches to provide services in another country), the request seeks commitments that, to the greatest extent possible, would not provide for a number of limitations, including content quotas, foreign equity restrictions, limits to the number of suppliers, and discriminatory taxes and requirements. The request also seeks to reduce the scope and content of MFN exemptions in the sector, and indicates that certain flexibilities — for example, subsidies — would be discussed during the negotiations.


back to top

Additional information 

Search Documents Online
These links open a new window: allow a moment for the results to appear.

  • Background paper on audiovisual services (Document code MTN.GNS/AUD/* or S/* and keyword “audiovisual”)  > search   > help

You can perform more sophisticated searches from the Documents Online search facility by defining multiple search criteria such as document symbol (i.e. code number), full text search or document date.

back to top

Some useful links and other resources  

Acheson, Keith and Christopher Maule (2003), “Canada — Audiovisual Policies: Impact on Trade”, Hamburg Institute of International Economics.

Bernier, Ivan (2004), “Content Regulation in the Audio-Visual Sector and the WTO”, in D. Géradin and D. Luff (eds.), “The WTO and Global Convergence in Telecommunications and Audiovisual Services”, Cambirdge University Press, Cambridge (UK), pp. 215-242.

Beviglia-Zampetti, Americo (2003),WTO Rules in the Audio-Visual Sector”, Hamburg Institute of International Economics.

Burri-Nenova, Mira (2009), “Trade versus Culture in the Digital Environment: an Old Conflict in Need of a New Definition”, “Journal of International Economic Law”.

Cocq, Emmanuel and Patrick Messerlin (2003), “The French Audiovisual Policy: Impact and Compatibility with Trade Negotiations”, Report no. 233, Hamburg Institute of International Economics.

European Audiovisual Observatory (2007), “Focus 2007: World Film Market Trends”.

Francois P. et van Ypersele, T. (2002) “On the Protection of Cultural Goods“, “Journal of International Economics” 56:359-369.

Gómez Bustos, Laura and Pierre Sauvé (2007), “¿Una historia de dos soledades? La Convención de la UNESCO sobre diversidad cultural y el derecho de la OMC”, in R. Bouzas (ed.), “Después de Doha: la agenda emergente del sistema de comercio internacional”, Marcial Pons, Barcelona.

Graber, Christophe Beat (2004), “Audio-Visual Policy: The Stumbling Block of Trade Liberalization?” in D. Géradin and D. Luff (eds.), “The WTO and Global Convergence in Telecommunications and Audiovisual Services”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK), pp. 165-214.

Guerrieri, Paolo, P. Lelio Iapadre and Georg Koopman (eds.) (2005), “Cultural Diversity and International Economic Integration: The Global Governance of the Audio-Visual Sector”, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.

Hanson, Gordon and Chong Xiang, forthcoming, “International Trade in Motion Picture Services”, in Marshall Reinsdorf and Matthew Slaughter, eds., “International Flows of Invisibles: Trade in Services and Intangibles in the Era of Globalization”, University of Chicago Press and NBER.

Lalevée, Fabrice and Florence Lévy-Hartmann (2007), “The Support for the French Cinematographic Production: Who Benefits from the French “Cultural Exemption”?”, Working Paper, Groupe d'Economie Mondiale, Paris.

Marvasti, Akbar (2000), “Motion Pictures Industry: Economies of Scaleand Trade”, “International Journal of the Economics of Business”, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 99-114.

Marvasti, Akbar and E. Ray Canterberry (2005), “Cultural and Other Barriers to Motion Pictures Trade”, “Economic Inquiry”, Vol. 43, No. 1, January, pp. 39-54. 

Messerlin, Patrick (2000), “Regulating Culture: Has it 'Gone with the Wind'?”, The Australian National University, “Achieving Better Regulation of Services, Conference Proceedings”, Canberra, 26-27 June 2000.

Messerlin, Patrick, Stephen Siwek and Emmanuel Cocq (2005), “The Audiovisual Services Sector in the GATS Negotiations”, American Enterprise Institute Press, Washington DC.

Mukherjee, Arpita (2002), “India's Trade Potential in Audiovisual Services and the GATS”, Working Paper no. 81, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.

OECD (2005), “Digital Broadband Content: Music”, Paris.

OECD (2008), “Remaking the Movies; Digital Content and the Evolution of the Film and Video Industries”.

Roy, Martin (2005), “Audiovisual Services in the Doha Round; 'Dialogue de sourds, the sequel?”, “Journal of World Investment & Trade”, Vol. 6, No. 6, pp. 923-952.

Roy, Martin (2008), “Beyond the Main Screen: Audiovisual Services in PTAs”, in Marchetti and Roy (eds.), “Opening Markets for Trade in Services; Countries and Sectors in Bilateral and WTO Negotiations”, WTO and Cambridge University Press.

Roy, Martin, Juan Marchetti and Hoe Lim (2008), “The Race Towards Preferential Trade Agreements in Services: How Much Market Access Is Really Achieved?”, in Panizzon, Pohl, and Sauvé (eds.), “GATS and the Regulation of International Trade in Services”, Cambridge University Press. (see section on Audiovisual Services).

UNCTAD (2002), “Audiovisual Services: Improving Participation of Developing Countries”, Note by the Secretariat, Geneva, Switzerland.

UNESCO (2006), “Trends in Audiovisual Markets; Regional Perspectives from the South”, Paris.

Voon, Tania (2007), “Cultural Products and the World Trade Organization”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK).