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Obama lunches in Mexico, business is served

NAFTA refreshments and the Trans-Pacific Partnership are on the menu when Obama meets Canada's Stephen Harper and Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto, while immigration and gang wars simmer.

Pena nieto obama 2013 04 30Enlarge
US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Mexico's then-president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on Nov. 27, 2012. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

MEXICO CITY — President Barack Obama will jet into Enrique Pena Nieto's industrial hometown Wednesday for a quick bit of face-to-face with the Mexican leader and their counterpart from Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper got in on Monday. Obama lands in Toluca, about 50 miles west of Mexico City, at noon. His plane will be wheels up and Washington-bound a few hours after sunset.

Succinct summitry may be all that’s wanted or needed in this close, yet frequently dysfunctional, relationship. Unpleasant things seldom get public airing in these meetings. The heads of state are expected to focus on business, not bad blood.

"The leaders will reaffirm their commitment to a shared vision about the future of our region, which contributes to the well-being and prosperity of our societies," Sergio Alcocer, Mexico's top diplomat for North America, told reporters Sunday.

There’s a lot to talk about: immigration, petroleum and upgrading the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, to some vaguely defined next level. "Building the most competitive and dynamic region in the world" is the official meeting theme.

The men will have brief one-on-ones, a shared lunch (tequila mercifully flows at such things in Mexico) and a quick news conference to make sense of it all.

All three leaders support negotiation of a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership — a sort of mega-NAFTA — in the coming years. And Pena Nieto’s recent opening of Mexico’s energy industries to private investment after 75 years has big business everywhere rubbing its hands.

There are awkward points, too.

The US spying on Pena Nieto and other Mexican leaders might well come up. As could Mexico’s dialing back of the security cooperation Washington forged with Pena Nieto’s predecessor.

“Certainly our shared security concerns will be part of the conversation,” a senior US official said in a conference call last week.

But Harper likely won’t press Obama too forcefully on the stalled approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would slurry Canadian carbon-heavy oil to southern US refineries. And he’ll probably be gentle when he tells Pena Nieto that Canada won’t back down on requiring visas for Mexican visitors.

Pena Nieto in turn likely won’t scream too loudly about that visa issue. Nor would he growl loudly about the US deportation of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans in recent years, or Obama's inability to get immigration reform through Congress.

Toluca is the seventh such trilateral summit since 2005.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/mexico/140218/obama-harper-pena-nieto-trade-summit