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North American Leaders' Summit Focuses on Economy, Drugs, Trade

U.S. President Barack Obama, (C), Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R), and Mexico's President Felipe Calderon (L) walk out of the Oval Office before a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama, (C), Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R), and Mexico's President Felipe Calderon (L) walk out of the Oval Office before a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2012.

President Barack Obama hosted the sixth North American Leaders' Summit on Monday, welcoming Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the White House. They discussed economic, trade and energy issues and joint efforts against transnational drug gangs.   

The last North American summit was in 2009, though the three men have met at the G8 and G20, and summits of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation).

The U.S., Mexico and Canada are linked in the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1994.  Last year, total U.S. trade in goods with its two neighbors exceeded $1 trillion for the first time.

President Obama noted that this supports about 2.5 million American jobs.  He said the leaders discussed ongoing steps to create economic opportunity, and increase exports.

"We are doing everything we can to speed up the recovery and that includes boosting trade with our two largest economic partners.  As president, I have made it a priority to increase our exports and I am pleased that our exports to Canada and Mexico are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world," Obama said.

Another major focus of the summit was the high stakes battle against trans-national drug and criminal organizations that are challenging governments in Mexico and Central America.

The United States is providing $1.6 billion in aid to Mexico, where drug-related violence has left as many as 50,000 people dead since a government crackdown began in 2006.  U.S. aid to Central American nations exceeds $300 million.

In translated remarks, President Calderon said he urged President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to continue their efforts against weapons trafficking and to reduce the demand for drugs.

"The fight that Mexico is experiencing for a safer North America also requires a strengthening of national actions, among other things to stop the trafficking of weapons, to combat with greater strength money laundering, and of course to reduce the demand for drugs that strengthens criminal organizations," Calderon said.

President Obama said drug violence can undermine institutions in Mexico and elsewhere and praised the Mexican government's response so far.

"I think the Mexican government has taken this very seriously, at great cost to itself.  We have an obligation to take it just as seriously in part because we are the ultimate destination for a large chunk of this market," Obama said.

Prime Minister Harper said trans-national drug crime requires a unified response. "The security challenge, particularly around the drug trade, is a serious regional problem throughout our hemisphere," Harper said.

President Obama also reiterated his determination to achieve comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system.  Opposition from Republicans in the U.S. Congress has frustrated his efforts.

The three leaders also discussed the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Canada and Mexico wish to join. Obama said each country in the group, and aspiring members, will have to make adjustments to maintain high standards.

Monday's summit was the last for Mr. Calderon, whose six-year term as president ends in November.  Mexico holds presidential elections on July 1.

President Obama, who is running for a second term, said he looks forward to having an "excellent working relationship" with the next president of Mexico.

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