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Beyond NAFTA:
2000 North American Youth Conference

Concluding Session:

The concluding session sought to wrap-up the many issues discussed throughout the conference, and to reassert the commitment g[t]o address future mechanisms for co-operation among the participants and recommendations from each theme for both government and civil society actors.h  The conclusions and recommendations cited here were by no means unanimous, but emerged through considerable discussion and debate sustained by the participantsf respect for each other, and commitment to a more just and sustainable North America.  While recommendations may vary across the three issues, in quantity and degree of specificity, this reflects the nature of the issues, the varying groups and approaches in which they were discussed and decided, and the diverse priorities of the participants.


The concluding discussion on culture took the novel task of considering what the participants would like to see from NAFTA fifty years into the future.  Recognising that cultural integration is and will continue to proceed, they considered what type of culture they desired and decided it was one that recognised and nourished a great diversity of languages, histories, customs and priorities while celebrating national and North American commonalties and collective strengths.  Stressing that first of all, any decisions concerning cultural matters must be decided at the citizen level and respecting local differences and priorities, the participants highlighted language, education, exchange, and cultural industries for more detailed consideration.

Echoing the words of Sr. Ruy-Sanchez, the participants recognised the role of language in defining and preserving how communities and nations perceive and interact with the world.  They asserted that cultural diversity would be impossible without linguistic freedom and support.  For this, they recommended greater resources and commitment for language training for teachers, and the incorporation of all languages into the education systems.  While education was seen as ensuring cultural integrity, it was also recognised as a means for building cross-cultural understanding and co-operation.  It was hoped that 50 years later, students from primary grades through university would be learning about and appreciating the many cultures that make-up North America.

The education system was also seen as a powerful vehicle of cultural advancement through student exchanges, conferences, and youth initiatives.  The participants recognised that the success of these efforts would depend on a larger network of government and community commitments, such as a North American commission to nurture and protect cultural integrity, the inclusion of indigenous peoples in governing systems, official support and protection of cultural industries, and the equitable distribution of resources to curb cultural homogenisation and empower previously marginalised communities.

In brief, the participants recommended

  •  recognition of culture as gsoul of the nationh

  • citizen participation and decision-making over cultural issues

  • governmental support of linguistic diversity and freedom

  • prioritising of education, cultural and otherwise

  • greater resources for language teacher training

  • greater opportunities for youth, cultural, academic exchanges

  • trilingual publication and distribution of policy documents, agreements

  • translation of documents into aborginal and minority languages

  • prioritising of aboriginal, minority and marginalised community interests

Participants concluded that if these recommendations were not addressed, fifty years into the future and today, the participants concluded that NAFTA, and other hemispheric etradef agreements would need to be renegotiated.


Having located issues of governance across spheres of political action (state, industry, civil society and community), levels (from North America to the individual), and topics (economy, culture, environment), the participants concluded that NAFTA is only the beginning.  While NAFTA is useful in having highlighted the need for greater consideration of North American governance, the discussion and action must extend beyond narrow economic arrangements and recognise the inseparable complexities of growing integration.  In particular, the participants stressed the need for

  • each country to improve their own traditions of governance, and the relations between the states and people

  • social actors must strive to understand the differences within political structures and cultures, at the same time as thinking and acting regionally

  • greater communication, sharing of information, amongst North American peoples, organisations and governments, fostering greater North American dialogue

  • deepening and expanding governing institutions, built on dialogue and co-operation

  • greater emphasis and resources dedicated to all levels of education and youth development

  • greater opportunities for cultural and experiential exchange and awareness

In many ways it was agreed that the North American Youth Conference stood as an example of the regional communication and dialogue that are necessary and which must be improved to affect positive change in North American governance.  The conference itself was highlighted as it emphasised the involvement, education, and development of youth, bringing together individuals, scholars, activists and governments to discuss questions of politics, culture and the environment from a dramatically rich pool of regional, cultural, ethnic and linguistic perspectives.

Sustainable Development

Perhaps more so than on questions of culture and governance, the participants proved particularly animated and specific in their recommendations and hopes for environmental and communal sustainability.  This reflected the participantsf conviction that sustainability must be at the heart of communal, national and regional priorities, grounding individual, social and governmental understandings and efforts.  Concentrating on six key objectives of corporate responsibility, information sharing, democratisation, government leadership, redistribution and citizen responsibility, the participants echoed and expanded upon many of the conclusions and recommendations noted above.

  •  Corporate Responsibility

            -Eco-taxation reflecting true costs of production
            -greater incentives for sustainable production
            -harsher penalties for eco-hostile practices
            -better waste management infrastructure
            -greater dissemination of information on corporate activities

  • Information Sharing

            -sustainability must be built from the ground-up through better education from primary school through university
            -recognition of the diversity and wealth of experiential, traditional and cultural knowledge
            -greater communication between communities and peoples
            -greater dissemination of technical information and expertise across borders and into marginalised areas
            -greater funding for information-sharing activities, exchanges, conferences

  • Democratisation

            -commitment to equitable distribution of resources and power
            -recognition of community-based decision-making structures
            -emphasis on bottom-up, community based decision making
            -greater public input into government decision making processes and results
            -recognising the role of civil society in shaping public agenda
            -greater separation between government and industry
            -more popular control over questions of resource use and conservation
            -greater protection of minority rights

  • Government Leadership

            -governments must take greater responsibility for ensuring sustainability
            -governments should take the lead in promoting sustainable practices through example
            -stricter regulations concerning resource usage, preservation, recycling etc.
            -greater dissemination of information
            -greater weight given to environment and community related government agencies
            -institutions must respect indigenous rights, traditions, knowledge
            -development of Sustainable Development Index (SDI)
            - politicisation and/or de-politicisation of environmental issues

  • Redistribution

            -better funding of sustainable community initiatives
            -better incentives for small and medium-sized businesses
            -distribution of public funds should better reflect peoplefs interest in sustainable development
            -greater equity in regional distribution of benefits and costs of development
            -addressing historical inequities

  • Citizen Responsibility

            -stress that people are citizens not consumers
            -that people can play an important role in individual and collective lives
            -emphasise sustainable consumption patterns
            -possibilities of internet-based networks
            -citizens must be willing to take greater responsibility for sustainability

Stressing the inseparability of environmental issues and sustainability from cultural and political considerations, the participants recognised that the issues must be dealt with together.  They concluded that only through recognising the links between culture, governance, and the environment could real change be effected.

The participants concluded the conference with a video-taped message to Ministers Green, Albright and Axworthy.  They took the opportunity to express their appreciation for the inspiration and resources necessary for the conference, for the opportunity to meet and discuss issues of North American culture, governance and sustainability, and gin the spirit of public diplomacy and a more active civil society,h and in hopes of a more vibrant, just and sustainable North American community, shared their deep felt hopes for the recommendations listed above.

In closing, the participants asserted with resounding consensus that the conference should not end in Montreal, but the participants should continue to support new and ongoing efforts individually and collectively, harnessing the promise of communication technology and a growing awareness of shared community, through such efforts as a North American Environmental Youth Network.

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