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Beyond NAFTA:
2000 North American Youth Conference

Session 2: Governance

As noted by conference facilitator Jimena Jimenez, g[t]he term governance conjures up many contradictions, tensions and paradoxes inherent in processes of globalisation.  It signifies the search for order in the disorder, for stability in turbulent times and for hope in despair.h  In this, North America is no exception, and the participants were confronted with the daunting task of how best to wind their ways through these uncertainties and dangers, and articulate concrete proposals for their individual communities, regions, countries and for North America.  Along this path, the participants were asked to consider and discuss what kind of governance actually exists in North America.  Who defines it and whose interests does it serve?  Are current NAFTA institutions sufficient to meet the challenges posed by the economic integration promoted by corporate interests?  What are the proper roles and limits of Government, of civil society, and of NGOs?

Guest Speaker: Prof. John D. Wirth (United States)

Opening the discussion on post-NAFTA governance, Professor John D. Wirth, President of the North American Institute, Sante Fe, identified the need for new mechanisms and methods of governance, the prerequisites and difficulties of their creation, and the possibilities as revealed through cross-border environmental considerations and demands.  Prof. Wirth asserted that North America has embarked on a process of integration quite different from the EU model, and though regionally varied, deep enough to claim that we no longer have gforeign policyh as such.  Echoing the opening words of Minister Axworthy, Prof. Wirth noted how the changes brought about through economic integration are outpacing the national and regional infrastructures necessary to deal with them.  Yet, in spite of this there has been very little consideration given to what kind of integration we desire, let alone how to deal with the current and future consequences.

Addressing the changes wrought by economic integration, Prof. Wirth advised that we move beyond shallow, economic linkages, and develop deeper regional relationships in the spirit and hopes of a community.  For this to occur, he suggested that greater attention must be given to issues of resource distribution and citizen involvement in the decision-making processes.  He stressed that with any sort of development, we need to question how the benefits and costs are distributed in order to put in place mechanisms for just distribution, and consider how to forge appropriate public policy to deal with the costs.  For public policy to advance in this direction, he is wary of government-business elites and their agendas, and advised that we need to take greater account of the necessary roles of NGOs and citizens.  Noting the controversy surrounding the terms and practice of citizen participation, especially in Mexico, he maintained that we must enter into the process with trust, and not shy away from the challenges, as citizen participation is surely the way of the future.

Recognising that gthe environment knows no passport,h and cuts across all issues, Prof. Wirth suggested to the participants various ways in which environmental challenges and opportunities present possibilities for a more just form of governance which incorporates the involvement and interests of social actors.  Celebrating environmental movements as exemplars of active gsocial capital,h Prof. Wirth advised that mechanisms such as the Commission on Environmental Co-operation (CEC), typically known for their lack of vision regarding citizen involvement, could be strengthened through social capital and the greater sharing and publicising of information.  More specifically, he asked the participants to consider the feasibility of yearly environmental etaking-stockf reports, which would help raise public awareness and social pressure on governments, and the establishment of Trans-border Environmental Impact Assessments to be carried out for any project within 100 kilometres of a border.

Participant Presentations and Discussion

Continuing the focus on policy options and social action, participant presentations and discussions were led by Jorge Schiavon (Mexico), Shawn McClure (US), and Sylvain LeDuc (Canada).  Perhaps due to the ambiguities hinted at above, the discussions surrounding questions of North American governance were far-reaching and difficult to conclude.  In general, participants appeared to reach the consensus that current NAFTA institutions are insufficient to address the multiple challenges of growing integration.  From this starting point, they questioned the implications of NAFTA for the political institutions and for citizenship in the three countries and the extent to which integration should be pursued; what institutions and actions are necessary, and how can we co-operate to confront these challenges?

Perhaps due to the overtly epoliticalf nature of the topic, questions of governance were conceptualised largely in bipolar terms; globalisation vs. parochialism, state vs. society, national vs. local, economic vs. political, and co-operation vs. conflict.   Participants were virtually unanimous that while certain parallels could be drawn between NAFTA and the EU, North American and European Union are necessarily different, as are our collective and separate histories and cultures.  This launched a discussion on the contestations between processes of globalisation and parochialism.  Clearly, the experiences of North America suggest an increasingly co-operative system of governance, which although stretches and challenges notions of sovereignty, is a commitment distinct from globalisation.  The participants went on to question the continued relevance of esovereigntyf as a concept and organising jurisdiction in the North American context, pointing to transportation as a good example of where gco-operation is more useful than sovereignty.h  In this way, both globalisation and parochialism were abandoned for a more nuanced approach which sought to forge more eglobalf links without compromising local priorities.

But how to define the elocalf became another source of debate.  In the North American context, should the local be understood to be the national level, or more specifically the community?  The participants stressed that we are far more than eNorth Americans,f and still more than simply Mexicans, Americans and Canadians.  Each country is comprised of diversities and linkages that defy easy categorisation.  Policies and governing structures suitable for Utah or Mexico City, may prove inappropriate for Chiapas or Quebec, especially when considering such issues as political representation, resource usage and language.   This resulted in the need for a discussion over the appropriate actors to represent these diverse interests.  Should these actors be the state or society, government or civil society?   While recognising gthe reality of political integration,h that seems to favour traditional political structures, the participants firmly asserted that North America, if it is to exist as a true community, must be built from the bottom-up, with the emphasis clearly and continuously on the people.

To reflect and contribute to governance of the people, the participants stressed that integration must be recognised as involving more than narrowly conceived economic interests.  Linkages between economics, politics, culture, tradition, and the environment need to be recognised at the personal level, demanding a reconceptualisation of citizens as consumers within a predominantly consumer society.  For individuals and communities to assume a greater role in North American governance, they will need to recognise and assert the complexities and strengths that give them political legitimacy.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary


Opening Session & Session 1:  Culture
 Guest Speaker: Alberto Ruy-Sanchez Lacy
 Participant Presentations and  Discussion

Session 2:  Governance
 Guest Speaker: Prof. John D. Wirth
 Participant Presentations and Discussion

Session 3:  Sustainable Development
Guest Speaker: Christine Elwell
 Participant Presentations and Discussion

Concluding Session

Appendix:  Conference Agenda and List of Participants