|Centre on North American
Politics and Society
Initiated by a call from Minister Lloyd Axworthy, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Beyond NAFTA: 2000 North American Youth Conference, sought to discuss and understand the processes of economic integration with respect to NAFTA, and the inseparable, but often neglected questions of North American culture, governance and sustainable development. Organised around these three themes, and presented and simultaneously interpreted in Spanish, French and English, the conference brought together government, academics, students, activists and NGOs to share experiences, gain insights and set out concrete recommendations for an increasingly integrated, yet diverse North America.
Across all three themes the participants displayed diverse opinions, but shared general concerns over the general direction of North American integration to date. Examining the cultural ramifications, the participants asserted the direct links between economic integration, culture and questions of political and economic justice. They concluded that without continued efforts, NAFTA might prove a serious threat to North American cultural diversity and strength. They recommended increased resources and efforts dedicated to cultural education, linguistic diversity, youth exchange and cultural industries in accordance with citizen interests and decisions.
After much discussion, the participants concluded that NAFTA, its institutions, and political processes, are insufficient to address the complex challenges of growing integration. Recognising the inevitability of growing integration, the participants struggled to articulate options that highlighted the political, economic, cultural and environmental priorities of diverse, yet interconnected interests. They concluded that North American governance, if it is to extend beyond narrow economic interests, must operate from the bottom-up, built on the knowledge, experiences and interests of citizens, communities and civil society.
The participants were unanimous that sustainable development is far more complex than narrowly conceived economic or environmental concerns, encompassing the totality of political, economic, cultural, social and environmental issues. Locating the debate specifically within questions of eco-tourism, resource distribution, and environmental industrialism, the participants concluded that narrow economic understandings and agreements, such as NAFTA, have proven detrimental to communities and the environment. At the same time, NAFTA, its institutions, and political taskmasters have proven insufficient and/or unwilling to deal with the consequences. Again, the participants asserted that democratic reform which prioritised the interests and decisions of citizens and communities were necessary.
In conclusion, the participants of Beyond NAFTA: 2000 North American Youth Conference, recognised that integration continues to grow and deepen regardless of the problems identified. Accordingly, they asserted that greater public discussion must take place concerning the form and pace of integration, and the possible avenues for citizen action. They emphasised individual and community empowerment, the preservation of cultural, political, and social-environmental diversity, strengthened education and information sharing, and government leadership and resource distribution.
Finally, participants were united in their commitment to extend the energy and understandings of the conference to help build a more just and sustainable North America. This report strives to reflect and promote the participantsf interests, concerns and hopes.
Session & Session 1: Culture
3: Sustainable Development