'Three Amigos' Talk Trade In Mexico

President Obama is meeting with heads of state from Canada and Mexico. These North American neighbors are often called the "three amigos." They are expected to talk about trade and border security.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

President Obama is in Mexico today, for a one-day summit meeting with his fellow North American leaders. Trade tops the agenda. And President Obama signed an executive order today designed to speed up cross-border commerce. But the president's broader trade agenda appears to be slowing in the face of stiff congressional opposition.

NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. And, Scott, it's been 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. Where do the leaders of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico go from here?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Audie, for several years now, the U.S. has been trying to negotiate a broader free trade deal that would include a dozen countries all around the Pacific Rim. This began as an effort to tap into fast-growing Asian economies. But Mexico and Canada have also joined the talks. So the White House sees this as an opportunity to update NAFTA, and include some environmental and labor provisions that were not included back in the 1990s.

Obama would like to finalize the deal this so-called Transpacific Partnership some time this year. Actually, he would like to have finalized it last year. But Democrats and some Republicans are reluctant to give him fast-track negotiating power. So, at this summit, Obama is going to have to ask his counterparts, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian PM Steven Harper to be patient.

Just yesterday, his top trade negotiator Mike Froman told an audience in Washington, that the administration is not giving up on free trade talks.

MIKE FROMAN: The question we face is not whether we can roll back the tide of globalization. It's whether we're going to shape it or be shaped by it. Whether we're going to do everything that we can to ensure that it reflects our values or let the values of others define it.

HORSLEY: Within north American, there's already a pretty robust trade regime. And now a third of U.S. exports go to Mexico or Canada. And that executive order that the president signed today on his way to the summit today is designed to cut down on paperwork, and make it easier for especially small businesses to move goods quickly across the border more quickly.

CORNISH: And meanwhile, President Obama is certainly moving quickly. He's going to be on the ground in Mexico for only about nine hours - an overnighter.

HORSLEY: Yeah, this is a whirlwind to Toluca, Mexico, which is Pena Nieto's hometown. But administration officials insist it's not a snub, Obama has already met before with both Pena Nieto and Harper. And aides say this is about as long as the typical North American leaders meeting.

CORNISH: Now, in that short time, what else do the leaders have to talk about?

HORSLEY: Well, of course, immigration is always a topic of great interest in Mexico. But as with trade, it doesn't look like we're going to see any congressional action on immigration reform anytime soon. And then, of course, the Canadians are eager to see a decision to move ahead with the Keystone Pipeline, to carry crude oil from the Canadian tar sands down to the U.S. Late last month, the State Department issued its environmental report - a long awaited report - that at least opens the door open for that pipeline. But a final decision is still months away.

And as there's an extra chill in relations between President Obama and Prime Minister Harper, it might be the chill of Olympic ice. Both the men and women's hockey teams from the U.S. and Canada are going to be facing off in the coming days. And we all remember what happened four years ago, when the Canadians swept the U.S. in both gold medal games. And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs - then-spokesman - had to conduct a briefing wearing a Canadian maple leaf hockey sweater.

(LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: So certainly Gibbs successor, Jay Carney, is hoping for a different outcome in this year's games.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Audie.

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