What Obama Can Achieve in Mexico

PHOTO: President Barack Obama waves from the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, May 2, 2013. Obama traveled to Mexico City where he will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

President Barack Obama arrives in Mexico on Thursday afternoon for a 24-hour trip in which he is expected to meet with Mexico's president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to talk about trade, security and immigration.

The details of what both presidents will discuss have not been laid out to the public. Nor has it been explained why this meeting is important, other than to "reinforce" the relationship between both countries.

But here are some concrete issues that both presidents might end up talking about and why they need to be addressed.

Security

Mexico's president has tried to shift the focus of U.S.-Mexico talks away from security, and to the economy, arguing that the relationship between both countries must expand beyond drug war cooperation. The U.S. seems to be going along with this request based on statements made recently by Secretary of State John Kerry.

But there are changes in Mexico's security policies that directly affect the United States, such as a recent decision by the Mexican government to stop direct communication between Mexican law enforcement agencies and American agencies. From now on, all requests made by the U.S. for intelligence information must be routed through Mexico's Interior Ministry.

This new policy could hamper cooperation between U.S. officers who work for agencies like the DEA and the FBI, with their Mexican counterparts, according to sources consulted by the L.A. Times. It will also give Mexico's ministry of the interior more power to decide which sorts of sensitive information can be passed along to U.S. agents.

Obama and his advisers will probably have to ask some questions about how intelligence information will be shared from now on and seek some reassurances that information will still be made available to them. They may also want to ask Mexico what it wants to do with bi-national programs that have come under scrutiny from officials in Mexico's new government.. For example, there was a program through which U.S. agents help to conduct background checks on new Mexican police hires to make sure that they have no connection to drug trafficking groups.

Alex Sanchez, a security analyst at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, believes that intelligence sharing will be a significant issue during the private meetings that will be held on Thursday, even if it has been downplayed by both sides.

He said that intelligence sharing will become more relevant as Mexican cartels increase their presence in the U.S., and also as the U.S. explores new ways to secure the border with drones.

"I think the U.S. government wants to make sure that Pena Nieto is on the same page as Obama, that he wants to pursue the cartels as consistently and aggressively as [former Mexican President] Calderon did during his presidency," Sanchez said.

Trade and North American Integration

Some economists in the U.S. and Mexico have suggested that both countries should work together in order to compete against China's economic power.

This belief that Mexico and the U.S. should be partners and not actually competitors is supported by the fact that both countries already produce many goods together with companies in the U.S. sending raw materials to Mexico, for example, where they are assembled into different sorts of products, and sent back to this country.

James R. Jones, a former U.S. ambassador in Mexico, says that North America has the human capital and energy reserves that could make it into the most competitive region in the world.

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