By Stephen Collinson (AFP) – Apr 2, 2012
WASHINGTON — Mexico's President Felipe Calderon Monday called on the United States to do more to stop US-made assault weapons fueling his country's drugs war, at a North American summit at the White House.
US President Barack Obama, who hosted the meeting also involving Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile announced a new bid to slash regional trade regulations in order to boost exports and job creation.
Violence along America's southern border has cast a pall over US-Mexico trade, with drug cartels fighting for control of routes into the United States and Mexico complaining of arms purchased in the United States flowing south.
Calderon, who leaves office in December, said that the expiry of a US ban on assault weapons in 2004 had "coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest period of violence we've ever seen."
"I know that if we don't stop the traffic of weapons into Mexico ... then we are never going to be able to stop the violence in Mexico or stop a future turning of those guns upon the US."
Calderon turned Mexico's military loose on drug trafficking cartels upon taking office in 2006, but the violence has only grown, with the toll from drug-related violence rising to more than 50,000 people over the period.
Obama said during a three-way press conference after the summit that he recognized the challenge, and had tried to stop illegal gun trafficking from the United States to Mexico.
"It is a difficult task, but it's one that we have taken very seriously and taken some unprecedented steps," the US leader said.
The "Three Amigos" summit enjoyed its heyday under former president George W. Bush, and has faded somewhat in recent years, and came on this occasion just two weeks ahead of the wider Summit of the Americas in Colombia.
Obama announced that the three nations, signatories to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), would work to slash unneeded red tape which he said hampered jobs growth.
"Our three nations are going to sit down together, go through the books and simplify and eliminate more regulations that will make our joint economies stronger," he said.
Harper meanwhile praised Obama for recognizing Canada and Mexico's interest in joining the proposed new Trans-Pacific Partnership trading bloc, that forms a key part of the US president's "pivot" towards emerging Asia.
"We also had useful discussions on continued cooperation in managing our borders, streamlining regulation, securing global supply chains, and advancing clean energy," Harper said.
Through NAFTA, Canada is the largest market for US exports, followed by Mexico. The United States in turn is the largest market for both Mexican and Canadian exports.
The leaders did not mention whether they also discussed the controversial $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canada to the US Gulf Coast, which was delayed by Obama for further environmental and safety reviews.
Harper had previously expressed "profound disappointment" at the decision and repeated warnings that he would look to other markets such as China to sell Canada's booming oil production.
Republicans, seeking political traction in an election year as gas prices rise, slammed Obama for the decision, saying the pipeline would promote energy independence and quickly create thousands of construction jobs.
While energy and trade issues are nettlesome, security cooperation has been increasing between the three nations.
Closer ties began with the $1.6 billion Merida Initiative, which Calderon signed in 2008 with Bush. The initiative provides funds for anti-drug operations in both Mexico and Central America.
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