Background Conference Call with Senior Administration Officials on Vice President Biden's Trip to Mexico
9:46 A.M. EDT
MS. TROTTER: Thanks, everyone, for joining today’s call. We’re hoping to provide you with more details of Vice President Biden’s schedule and goals during his trip to Mexico this week. This call will be on background and our speakers will be happy to take a few questions after they give some brief opening statements at the top. We’d like to keep this call focused on the trip as much as possible, and I want to remind everyone that it’s one question per person only.
And with that, I will turn it over to our first speaker, who you can quote as a senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. Thanks, everyone, for joining the call. As you know, Vice President Biden will be making his third trip to Mexico, and his fifth trip outside the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere since becoming Vice President on this trip that we’ll be departing on later today and continuing on through tomorrow.
Let me just say a few words at the top here to put the trip in context, briefly run through the schedule, then I’ll turn to my colleagues to cover briefly the economic relationship and the economic focus of this trip and then turn as quickly as possible to your questions.
This trip continues a period of sustained United States engagement in Latin America, perhaps the most active stretch of high-level U.S. engagement we’ve seen in the region in a long time. The President visited Mexico and Costa Rica in May, as you know. The Vice President was in Colombia, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago the same month. We welcomed leaders from Peru and Chile to the Oval Office in June. And we have every expectation that this pace will continue in the months ahead.
At the outset, I should note that we originally planned on this trip to include a stop in Panama. Following his visit Monday to the ports of Savannah and Charleston, the Vice President was very much looking forward to visiting the Panama Canal and meeting with Panama’s President and other Central American leaders. We had to postpone that stop because the Vice President needed to stay in Washington in the middle of this week as part of our ongoing efforts to address the situation in Syria. So we postponed the visit to Panama, but I should note the Vice President called President Martinelli late last week and they agreed to reschedule the visit as soon as possible, and we have every expectation that we’ll do so very soon.
You might recall that the Vice President spoke earlier this year, in May, to the Council of the Americas here in Washington, and in that speech he set forth a vision and a roadmap for the administration’s approach to the hemisphere in the second term. And the core point of that speech, indeed, the fundamental objective of the President and Vice President’s approach to the hemisphere, is to work with our partners across the region to promote a hemisphere that’s middle class, secure, and democratic. And that’s the message that the Vice President has been delivering in his engagements across the region.
And it’s part of a very important effort we have to focus our energy and our resources in the second term, not just on the challenges that make the headlines today, but on the regions that we think will shape the world in the years ahead. Now, I mention this regional context because Mexico’s experience and its position in the region as a leader exemplifies all that we’re trying to accomplish with our partners across the region. And of course, Mexico is not just a leader in the region, a partner with the United States, but increasingly a global partner of ours. So I would expect that the Vice President will have an opportunity during this visit, even though brief, and particularly during his meeting with President Peña Nieto to address the wide range of our common interests across the region and globally.
As a neighbor and a close friend, of course, our connections run very deep and the strength and vibrancy of our economic relationship in some ways is one of the best reflections of that. And as my colleagues will discuss in more detail, in the 20 years since NAFTA, the two-way trade has quadrupled between our countries to nearly $500 billion a year, and Mexico is our second-largest export market and our third-largest overall trading partner. And so we see great promise in efforts to promote greater economic integration and openness. And that’s why during the President’s trip to Mexico in May, our two leaders announced a new High-Level Economic Dialogue to help further promote competitiveness, foster growth and job creation, sustain innovation, and explore ways to partner for global leadership.
And so the central purpose of this trip is for the Vice President to lead this first delegation of the new High-Level Economic Dialogue. My colleagues will discuss the dialogue in more detail and how it fits into our broader economic relationship, but we’re very excited about the team that we have for this event, including Cabinet officials from the Commerce Department, the United States Trade Representative, Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, and senior officials from other parts of the U.S. government.
The Vice President met with a number of Cabinet officials in the White House yesterday to prepare for the dialogue, and I think the strength of the delegation reflects the importance we’re placing on this new mechanism to strengthen economic and trade opportunities between our two countries.
So before I go to your questions, let me take one more minute just to walk through the specifics of the Vice President’s itinerary. We’ll depart tonight, as I said, for Mexico City, and on Friday morning the Vice President will inaugurate this U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue and give remarks and participate in the discussion with senior U.S. and Mexican officials.
My colleagues will talk in more detail about it, but I would note that part of the audience he will engage with includes participants in a new bilateral forum on education, which includes U.S. and Mexican educators, university administrators and education officials. Education is obviously a crucial issue in both our countries, and we see opportunities here to deepen cooperation.
The audience will also include a group of private sector stakeholders, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, diaspora leaders from both countries that will meet on the sidelines of the official dialogue.
After the dialogue, the Vice President will have a bilateral meeting with President Peña Nieto. The Vice President was last in Mexico for President Peña Nieto’s inauguration, and while they’ve kept in touch in the months since, and obviously the President has had engagement with Mexico’s President as well, the Vice President is very much looking forward to this meeting, and we anticipate they’ll have an opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues, both bilaterally, regionally and of course globally.
After that meeting, we’ll return back to the U.S. So this is a brief visit, briefer than we originally anticipated, but we’re going to try to pack a lot into a short period.
Now let me turn to my colleague to say a few words about the economic relationship, and my other colleague to talk about the dialogue itself.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. I just wanted to interject a little bit of perspective on the last 20 years of our relationship. As you just heard, our trade relationship has grown dramatically, but there’s also been, I think, significant change obviously in the global economy. And so this trip comes at a very useful time for both the United States and Mexico to take stock of what has been done and what we need to do, particularly as we move forward with conversations towards a new relationship with trading partners in Asia and launch negotiations with Europe. We obviously want to do so in careful consultation with Mexico, and discuss a range of issues that will help us refresh and modernize the agreements we have with them in the NAFTA.
So I think this is going to be a useful exercise, also building on the reforms that the Mexican administration has launched -- very important reforms to modernize its own economy -- and what you’re about to hear in terms of the detailed agenda for the High-Level Economic Dialogue I think will help fill out and create a basis for progress on those fronts.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. So just very quickly on the High-Level Economic Dialogue itself, as was mentioned, this was established by our Presidents in May of 2013 during President Obama’s visit to Mexico, at which time President Obama noted that Vice President Biden would be attending the first session of the High-Level Economic Dialogue. So this is coming through on that commitment.
What the High-Level Economic Dialogue is, it’s basically a structure that did not exist before for the two countries to discuss economic relations at a strategic level. This was done previously really between ministries and between ministers, and on a more ad hoc basis. But now, we wanted to have something that reflected the scale and the scope of our economic relationship with Mexico.
So what this is going to do is the High-Level Economic Dialogue will meet annually at the Cabinet level. On the United States side, the High-Level Economic Dialogue is led by USTR, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Commerce and the Department of State.
And the three areas that this High-Level Economic Dialogue will focus on, this inaugural session, are going to be on three particular points. First is promoting competiveness and connectivity. That could include issues like transportation and telecommunications for example.
Second item that they’ll be discussing is fostering economic growth, productivity and entrepreneurship and innovation. This is really about supporting and elevating the parts of our academic relationship and technical-scientific relationship, as well as our broader investment relationships to make our companies and our countries as competitive as possible in the global economy. So this fostering economic growth section will talk about issues like joint investment promotion, entrepreneurship, workforce development and items of that nature.
And the third area that we’re going to work on is partnering for regional and global leadership. Again, as my colleagues have mentioned here, this really is about the global context and where our economies fit in a very competitive global picture. So what we’re talking about is not only what we can do in the -- as part of the international financial architecture, our work together there, but also closer to home what we can do to promote economic development of Central America, what we can do with respect to regional trade priorities. And also what we can do focus on issues like transparency and anticorruption at a multilateral international level.
So with that, I think we’ll go ahead and turn it over to a few questions.
Q Thank you for taking my call. The Mexican officials held an on-the-record briefing yesterday about this very trip, and one of the things that was said was that the NSA spying on Mexico will not be part of the agenda. But I’m wondering why that's so since it’s obviously a thorny issue right now in the bilateral agenda. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. That was an accurate representation by the Mexican government. This dialogue, this visit is really about the importance of our economic relationship, something we’ve been emphasizing for some time now with Mexico. But this is a centerpiece issue.
On the matter of the disclosures, that's something that President Obama spoke to President Peña Nieto about while they were together at the G20 in St. Petersburg. It’s a matter that we’re addressing between our governments, and it’s clearly something that we’ve been able to address at the appropriate level and the appropriate time. This really is about this core interest of our two countries in elevating our global competitiveness.
Q In terms of the economic dialogue, is Vice President Biden’s idea or interest to ask the Mexican officials, especially the President of Mexico about the economic and the new energy reforms that the government and Congress of Mexico are discussing? I believe those reforms have a lot of interest and impact in the future of the economic dialogue.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. So as my colleague mentioned a bit earlier the reform agenda that President Peña Nieto is pursuing is ambitious in scope. And it really represents an investment in the incredible potential that exists in Mexico.
The energy reform certainly is part of that, but that's really a decision and a process that's going to be driven by the people of Mexico and by the government of Mexico.
Naturally, we have a tremendous interest in working with Mexico on issues like renewable energy, on cross-border projects that improve and lower costs and improve availability for citizens in both countries. And certainly that’s always going to be a part of the discussion as would be the case between neighbors, but the matter of reform is clearly something that is going to be directed and driven by the people of Mexico.
Q I noticed that you mentioned that one of the items on the agenda is going to be anti-corruption. Does that mean that the Merida Initiative will be coming up in the discussions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So with respect to the High-Level Economic Dialogue, I mentioned that anti-corruption as part of our work at the global and multilateral level. Mexico is a member, for example, of the Open Government Partnership and we are working on transparency initiatives with Mexico a great deal.
Certainly the Merida Initiative is something that we discuss all the time with Mexican officials in most of our engagements because it is a major part of our cooperation. It’s really the centerpiece of our security cooperation with Mexico and it’s a process that’s really responsive to the needs established by the government of Mexico and that we can cooperate with.
Certainly it’s very clear that transparency is an issue that’s important to the Mexican government and the Mexican administration. With respect to Merida, that’s –- much of our assistance there, much of our cooperation there has been focused on supporting judicial reform. And to the extent that judicial reform is a part of that transparency and process that certainly is an important element, but in the case of this visit again, the focus is really going to be on the broad economic relationship. And with respect to transparency, what can be done to create the most conducive and positive climate for investment in both countries.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just add one additional word to that, which is while the Vice President’s participation in the High-Level Economic Dialogue, as my colleague just mentioned, is going to be the primary focus of this trip, we fully expect that when the Vice President, President Peña Nieto meet, they’ll have an opportunity to discuss the full range of issues in the bilateral relationship and I suspect that security cooperation and related issues will be a part of that discussion.
I think it’s also worth pointing out and stepping back that one of the –- particularly on the economic side -– one of the points of emphasis that the Vice President in particular has been making in his travels not just in the hemisphere but actually in Asia, in India and other places is that there are a number of steps that the United States is trying to take to improve our own economic position, economic competitiveness. There are a number of steps that other countries are looking to take as well. And I think in the U.S.-Mexico context, there are a number of steps that both countries need to take to improve and realize the full potential of our partnership and I think the Vice President will have an opportunity to speak to that when he talks to the High-Level Economic Dialogue and in his other engagements while in Mexico.
Q I understand this call on background, but I wanted to know if they had -- maybe I missed it already, but the names of the officials talking.
And also in the interview -- I mean, could you just give us more specifics on the actual interview that Biden will have with Peña Nieto on Friday, late morning? I understand you just mentioned security, but what specifically will they talk about? The NSA spying claims? And will they discuss the issues of cooperation and how it's changed under President Peña Nieto? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much, caller. So on the issue of who is participating on this call. Senior official one would be Jeff Prescott, who is the deputy national security advisor to the Vice President.
I’m Christopher Smart, senior director for international economics.
I’m Ricardo Zuniga. I’m the senior director for the Western Hemisphere in the national security staff.
So, with respect to the meeting between the two -- between the Vice President and President Peña Nieto, as was mentioned previously, the matter of the disclosures is something that we've already had an opportunity to speak to on a couple of occasions with senior Mexican government officials, including on the margins of the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg between President Obama and President Peña Nieto. That’s something that we're going to be working on as close partners and friends, and working through over the next period.
The focus of this visit and this meeting is really elevating our work together to increase our global competitiveness in a very competitive environment. So that, again, is going to be part of the discussion between Vice President Biden and President Peña Nieto. But as my colleague mentioned, we have a broad agenda with Mexico that ranges from our work together in the region, in Central America, and in the Caribbean and elsewhere to stimulate economic growth and confront security issues jointly.
We have a very important bilateral agenda that involves the normal kinds of business neighbors have to concern themselves with, much of which is addressed in this economic dialogue with respect to border-area infrastructure, and what we can do together as neighbors to improve the prosperity and security of our people.
And as was also mentioned, we do have a strong security relationship with the government of Mexico, and we're sure that that will be part of the conversation as well. But again, the one point I want to emphasize is that Mexico is a global partner of the United States. We work together on issues well beyond the hemisphere, and certainly we're going to be talking about the global picture as well and where we can work together to address common challenges.
Q I have two quick questions. Do you expect the Mexican government to ask for help? As you probably know, Mexico is going through a very rough time with a human disaster as a result of the storms that have been hitting many states of Mexico, starting with Guerrero. I was wondering if Vice President Biden is going to say anything about this, and if you expect the Mexican government to ask for any type of assistance. And my second quick question is, I think you mentioned that the visit -- Vice President Biden’s visit to Mexico was shortened, and I was wondering why.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much for the question. Obviously we've all been tracking very closely the recent storms in Mexico and obviously there’s a great deal of concern about the impact and we're tracking the response very closely.
As far as I know -- and we could get you an update from our humanitarian and disaster team -- as far as I know there hasn’t been any formal request for assistance from Mexico to the United States. But I know the Vice President will obviously have recent events on his mind as he travels in Mexico and will have an opportunity to get an update on that during the course of the day and on his way to the trip as well.
As for your second question about the length of the trip, we originally intended -- as I mentioned at the beginning, the Vice President originally intended to travel to Panama as part of this visit. We've had to postpone that part of the trip. We have in some ways -- without getting into the boring details of logistical arrangements, but we've had to reshuffle some of the timing of some of the events in Mexico. But I think it’s fair to say we haven't curtailed or shortened the activities in what we’ve wanted to accomplish on this trip. It’s just that we're trying to do it all on Friday instead of on Thursday and Friday, as we had originally intended.
Obviously the events in Syria have caused us to change some of our plans this week, but we don't think it’s going to impact what we anticipate to be a very useful and productive visit tonight and tomorrow.
Thank you all very much for participating in the call.
MS. TROTTER: Thank you. And we will release more details about the Vice President’s schedule tomorrow later today. Thank you.
10:20 A.M. EDT