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President Obama heads to Guadalajara, Mexico today for two days of talks with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts. All three North American leaders are looking for ways to boost the region's economy and tackle common challenges such as drug trafficking and swine flu.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama has held private meetings before with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But this is the men's first three-way get together. Mr. Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, says it's part of an ongoing conversation.
Mr. JAMES JONES (National Security Adviser): You get in trouble when you wait too long before talking to your neighbors, and we want to make sure that we have a regular dialogue with them.
HORSLEY: High on the list of things to talk about is economic recovery. Canada and Mexico are the United States' first and third largest trading partners, and more than a trillion dollars worth of merchandise flowed among the three countries last year.
Economic adviser Mike Froman of the National Security Council says the leaders would like to see those trade ties made even stronger.
Mr. MIKE FROMAN (Economic Adviser, National Security Council): They'll discuss competitiveness and the competitiveness of North America and how to enhance it, and potentially areas of small but cumbersome impediments to get further integration.
HORSLEY: That's Froman's diplomatic way of saying there are some friction points among the neighbors. Both Canada and Mexico have complained about the Buy American provision of the U.S. stimulus package. And this spring, Mexico slapped tariffs on U.S. products such as toothpaste, batteries and paper in retaliation for years of broken promises to allow Mexican trucks on U.S. highways.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican trucks are supposed to be able to travel freely in the U.S., but Congress has balked at that, arguing the trucks are unsafe. Froman says the administration is trying to work out a compromise, though there's been little sign of progress.
Mr. FROMAN: This is an area that they were quite focused on. They were working with Congress to address safety concerns that they have about the U.S.-Mexican trucking program and will do so in a way that's consistent with our international vocations.
HORSLEY: Of course, not all the trade between the U.S. and Mexico is legitimate. The United States is the world's largest market for illegal drugs. And Mexico's president has been cracking down on the violent cartels that supply that market. He's winning praise from U.S. officials, like Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan.
Mr. JOHN BRENNAN (Deputy National Security Adviser): President Calderon is to be complimented for the very aggressive role and posture that he has taken, vis-a-vis the drug cartels. We have obligations on this side as well.
HORSLEY: Andrew Selee, who heads the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, says the U.S. has stepped up its efforts to keep money and guns out of the hands of drug traffickers. But, he says, no one should be looking for a quick victory in the drug war.
Mr. ANDREW SELEE (Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute): We're seeing some movement on things like arms flows to the south of the U.S. Government's getting more involved. The Mexican government's trying very hard to reform the police system. You know, but these are efforts that take several years to be successful, and there's lots of room for misunderstanding as the two countries move forward.
HORSLEY: The U.S., Mexico and Canada all point to their response to this spring's swine flu outbreak as a positive example of cross-border cooperation. With another flu season just around the corner, the three countries are hoping to build on that. Whether it's people, products or even tiny flu viruses, there's a lot of good and bad traffic among the North American neighbors. National Security Adviser Jones says in order to deal with that traffic, leaders have to cooperate.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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