Economy, immigration, drugs on U.S.-Mexican agenda

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon will juggle the hot issues of immigration and drug violence with the pomp and ceremony of a state visit when the Mexican leader comes to the White House on Wednesday.

The neighboring presidents are close allies. Wednesday’s meeting will be their 11th — their fourth one-on-one — and Calderon is only the second foreign leader to be received at the Obama White House with a state dinner.

The two countries, whose trade surpasses $1 billion a day, broadly agree on issues like the global economy and climate change. There are millions of Mexican-Americans and Mexicans living in the United States and many Americans travel to and live in Mexico.

But there are tensions over immigration, especially after a new Arizona law that Calderon has called “backward,” as well as border security, drug violence and trade.

“There is no more important relationship for the United States than our relationship with our neighbor. And … there’s no more perhaps complex relationship in the world for the United States,” a senior Obama administration official said.

Calderon’s visit will include a press conference with Obama, an address to U.S. business leaders and the state dinner with his wife, Margarita Zavala, on Wednesday. He will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday.

Calderon and Obama will discuss economic growth and cooperation, clean energy and climate change, immigration, security and the illegal drug and weapons trade, the official said, declining to be identified.

SEEKING U.S. SUPPORT

Analysts do not expect major new initiatives and instead will be watching to see how the leaders express concerns about difficult issues without upsetting their audiences at home.

“I think if the U.S. is saying we endorse what Calderon is doing, we support what he is doing to fight crime, to support the economy, those are all probably good things from his perspective,” said Eric Olson, a senior advisor at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute in Washington.

Obama is hugely popular in Mexico.

The Arizona law, which comes into force in July, requires police in the border state to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally.

Opponents say the measure encourages racial discrimination and Obama has condemned it. His administration has threatened to sue and said the issue underscores the need for a major immigration policy overhaul.

But opinion polls show the Arizona statute is popular with Americans and several states have expressed interest in passing similar laws.

Calderon told Reuters he would bring it up in Washington.

“Not only does it create domestic problems but it creates more friction with Mexico and yet it’s a delicate political issue going into an election,” Olson said.

Obama’s fellow Democrats are fighting to keep their majorities in Congress in midterm elections in November.

“My gut feeling is that Calderon will be the only one to refer to (the Arizona law) in any specific way,” Olson said.

The two presidents will discuss cooperation to crush drug gangs whose turf wars and battles with federal forces in Mexico have killed some 23,000 people since Calderon took office in December 2006 and launched an army-backed offensive.

The spiraling violence worries foreign investors and makes some tourists nervous about visiting Mexico. Drug-related abductions have spilled across the U.S. border.

The two sides are more closely aligned on the issue than they have been in years, with Mexico pleased that Washington acknowledges U.S.-made weapons and demand for drugs are big parts of the problem.

Mexico also is waiting for the United States to unveil a plan to let Mexican trucks circulate again on U.S. roads, which could end a dispute that prompted Mexico last year to slap duties on $2.4 billion worth of U.S. goods.

The administration official said the leaders would “undoubtedly” discuss the trucking issue.

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(Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

Economy, immigration, drugs on U.S.-Mexican agenda