US President Barack Obama met with Mexico's new leader, President Enrique Peña Nieto, in Mexico City on Thursday as part of his three-day Latin America trip.
Peña Nieto, speaking at a joint press conference held after the talks, announced a series of new bilateral measures aimed at boosting trade, addressing immigration concerns, and increasing educational cooperation.
Obama put trade at the forefront of his remarks, noting that hot-button issues like immigration can distract from the economic side of the US-Mexican partnership.
"As Mexico works to be more competitive, you've got a strong partner in the United States," said the US leader. Mexico is the United States' third-largest trading partner, while America is Mexico's top economic provider. Thus, fiscal growth in Mexico means fiscal growth in America, Obama said Thursday.
The visit between two powerful neighbors comes at a moment of key political transition in their home countries. Contentious immigration reform is on the horizon in Washington and Mexico's young administration is starting to assert itself.
This has not always been to Washington's liking — a key issue being Mexico's drug war, which the United States had gotten used to working rather authoritatively on under Mexico's former President Felipe Calderon.
But changes are afoot in that regard, with Peña Nieto consolidating his administration's crime-fighting forces in the interior ministry and some Mexican officials expressing reluctance on testing and intelligence, reported The New York Times.
Mexico's democracy has reached a point of "political maturity," Peña Nieto said on Thursday, vowing to implement key reforms he said will spur economic growth. But it is only by increasing US-Mexico economic cooperation that "we can make a more productive, a more competitive region," he added.
On immigration, Obama said he briefed Peña Nieto on the latest developments in Washington. The US leader described the immigration reform bill in Congress as "a great place to start" even though "it doesn't contain everything I want" — still, he said, it provides a basic framework for reform.
Peña Nieto shied away from making any strong comments on the issue, despite its importance for him domestically, keeping his remarks to an expression of acknowledgement and encouragement.
Obama was expected to discuss security issues with his Mexican counterpart in private. In public, the two world leaders returned again and again to the importance of their shared trade — $500 billion last year — and condemned the drug-fueled crime that has taken some 70,000 lives in Mexico.
Peña Nieto has promised a new preventive approach to the latter problem: educational and social reforms, he says, are what's needed in order to really challenge the crime-ridden status quo in Mexico.