WHITE HOUSE— U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto both say they will work together to further integrate their countries’ economies, and to fight cross-border crime. The two leaders met Thursday in Mexico City.
After their meeting, President Obama said he and Pena Nieto are working to further bolster an economic relationship that already produces a half-trillion dollars in trade each year.
“We are your largest customer, buying the vast majority of Mexican exports. Mexico is the second-largest market for U.S. exports. So every day, our companies and our workers, with their integrated supply chains, are building products together,” Obama said.
The two presidents agreed to upgrade the infrastructure at the border, hold more frequent high-level discussions on trade, and enhance their economic outreach to Europe, Asia and the Pacific.
Both leaders have emphasized their desire to shift the focus of U.S.-Mexican relations away from drugs and security to the economy.
That move could strengthen the relationship, according to analyst Carl Meacham at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This bodes well for the administration and it offers the administration an opportunity to put together different elements that could make this relationship new, contemporary, and make people excited about the United States and the region in a way that it hasn’t been done in the past,” Meacham said.
Security was a main topic in the meeting, however. President Pena Nieto has moved to limit the access that U.S. security agencies have had in Mexico to fight drug trafficking and organized crime.
The Mexican leader downplayed that change, and said it would not diminish cooperation with the U.S. on cross-border security.
Obama said Washington will “cooperate on the basis of mutual respect” to tackle the problem.
“We will interact with them in ways that are appropriate, respecting that ultimately, Mexico has to deal with its problems internally, and we have to deal with ours as well,” Obama said.
Obama pledged to work to reduce the U.S. demand for illegal drugs and the number of illegal guns into Mexico. Despite the recent failure of several gun control bills in the Senate, the president said he will persist on the issue.
He said he is optimistic that immigration reform legislation will pass in Congress, and that the initiatives have support in both parties. Pena Nieto expressed his support for Obama’s efforts to get the bills passed.
This is the president’s first visit to Latin America since his re-election, and his first meeting with Pena Nieto since the Mexican president took office.
Obama speaks to an audience of Mexican students Friday, before moving on to Costa Rica to meet with Central American leaders. Trade and security are expected to be high on the agenda there as well.