WHITE HOUSE —
President Barack Obama leaves Thursday for a two-day visit to Mexico and Costa Rica. The president’s meetings with the leaders of Mexico and Central America will focus on strengthening economic ties.
President Obama says economic development will be the main topic when he meets with Enrique Pena Nieto for the first time since the Mexican president took office.
“We have spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner, responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border," he said.
The trading relationship with Mexico is crucial to the U.S. economy, according to analyst Eric Farnsworth at the Council of the Americas.
"$1.4 billion a day crossing the border between our two countries. That is an extraordinary amount of trade and commerce every single day. We know that approximately six million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico," Farnsworth said.
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President Obama plans to talk about expanding the scope of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which since 1994 has lowered trade barriers between the United States, Mexico and Canada. He also will discuss strengthening regional trade with Europe and the Pacific Rim.
The U.S. and Mexican presidents plan to discuss drugs and cross-border security as well.
“We have made great strides in the coordination and cooperation between our two governments over the last several years. But my suspicion is that things can be improved,” Obama said.
In Costa Rica, Obama will meet President Laura Chinchilla and other regional leaders. They will also talk about trade and economic development.
“We want to make sure that our hemisphere is more effectively integrated to improve the economy and security of all people," Obama said.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Jim Jones says that while Central American countries are not as economically advanced as Mexico, they are still important for U.S. trade and manufacturing.
"Central America is the least developed of the North America / Central America countries, but they provide a very necessary part of the economic equation if you are competing with China, India, et cetera, et cetera, so they are a very important part of that," Jomes said.
In addition, the president says he hopes his visit to the region will help push immigration reform through Congress.