|Centre on North American
Politics and Society
2000 North American Youth Conference
We hope that this conference will serve
as a way of connecting individuals and groups, academics, government and
NGOs throughout the region and help us think about how we can envision
a new North America, based on mutual respect, mutual understanding and
In August 2000, the Centre on North American Politics and Society was inaugurated with the Beyond NAFTA: 2000 North American Youth Conference, which brought together youth from Mexico, the United States and Canada to discuss issues of tri-lateral culture, governance, and sustainable development. Of the more than three-hundred applicants, the thirty-six participants were selected on the basis of academic, professional and voluntary experience in issues related to North America, as well as in consideration of gender, ethnicity and region. Participants were asked to consider and discuss the non-economic ramifications and possibilities of the historic North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and increased ties between the three countries.
The conference was established in recognition that North America, as a region comprised of Mexico, the United States and Canada, is a relatively new construct thrust into being by largely economic motives. Yet, in spite of the novelty of thinking of ourselves collectively as North Americans, the interconnections between us continue to grow and deepen. This presents great opportunities and challenges, not only economically, as stressed in the North American Free Trade Agreement, but in the inseparable and critical fields of culture, governance and sustainable development which help provide for a healthy regional community. The conference was organised around these three interconnected themes, understood as central to the growth and protection of a vibrant North America deeply affected, yet underrepresented in the economic hopes and institutions of NAFTA.
Concerning culture, participants were asked to consider what the impact of hemispheric economic integration has been and will be on the evolution of a common North American culture, based on shared values and norms, and further what the implications might be on issues of cultural diversity, and the protection and promotion of the cultures of ethnic and linguistic minorities, and indigenous peoples.
Recognising that growing economic integration challenges the systems of governance established within and between countries, participants were asked to consider if political integration must necessarily follow the economic, and if so, in what form? Participants were asked to debate if existing institutions were sufficient to deal with the economic, cultural, political and environmental tasks at hand, and what the roles and responsibilities of government, civil society, NGOs, communities and individuals should be?
On sustainable development, participants were asked to consider how strategic partnerships can be forged that encourage research and innovation, while balancing productivity, global competitiveness and social-environmental protection; how can we protect and support both the environment and those groups and individuals marginalised and made vulnerable by accelerated economic integration? It was expected that the environment, and issues of sustainable development might emerge in discussions as both the litmus test of North American integration, and the greatest opportunity to forge constructive and innovative relationships.
Throughout the conference and across all three themes, it was hoped that bringing together bright, articulate and active youth, representing diverse regions, cultures and experiences to discuss and debate these important issues held promise for the future integration of North America. The future leaders of North America were asked to consider at all times how we can foster and respect our diversities at the same time as forging commonalties, how they might contribute to an informed and dynamic North American civil society, and above all, how to translate the energy, awareness and determination of the conference into further activities, networks and positive change.
Session & Session 1: Culture
3: Sustainable Development