January 30, 2023

President Biden is in Mexico City to discuss issues like migration, climate and fentanyl with Mexico’s López Obrador and Canada’s Trudeau.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Migration, the economy, trying to stop fentanyl traffickers – those are just some of the items on the agenda as President Biden meets today with his Mexican counterpart, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Biden is in Mexico City for the North American Leaders Summit, and so is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello there.

KELLY: Hi. So get us read in. What has happened so far at this summit?

KEITH: Well, things are just getting underway now. And tonight, Biden, Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and their spouses are all having dinner together. Tomorrow, the real meetings take place. And it isn’t just the leaders – seemingly half of President Biden’s Cabinet is down here holding meetings with their counterparts as well.

One big topic that we know about is nearshoring – bringing production of things like microchips and car parts and even pharmaceuticals to North America. The pandemic and ongoing supply chain issues were a real wake-up call that the U.S. and its neighbors were too dependent on China. So earlier this year – or late last year, you had Congress pass the Chips and Science Act to boost chip production in the U.S. There was also an element of the Inflation Reduction Act favoring manufacturing in North America. I spoke with Martha Barcena Coqui, a former Mexican ambassador to the U.S.

MARTHA BARCENA COQUI: So I think this is one of the most important issues on the concept of the vision of North America for the future as the most competitive region in the world. The U.S. cannot do it alone.

KEITH: So part of what they’re doing this week is setting the groundwork for these three nations to work together to bring back some of this manufacturing.

KELLY: And what about the personal relationship between these three leaders? Do you have a sense of what that – how that’s playing out so far?

KEITH: Well, Biden has spent a lot more time with Trudeau on issues associated with Russia’s war in Ukraine. And he’s still building his relationship with Lopez Obrador, who’s a leftist populist, who really got along well with former President Trump. On this trip, President Biden is going out of his way to get some of that face-to-face time that he put so much stock into. And what I mean is he is literally going out of his way. Lopez Obrador publicly asked Biden to fly into an airport that is famous for being inconvenient and distant…

KELLY: (Laughter) OK.

KEITH: …Instead of the larger one that is closer to central Mexico City because that newer airport – its success is really important to Lopez Obrador for domestic political reasons. So Biden flew into that airport, and then Lopez Obrador rode in the motorcade with him that took nearly 70 minutes. But National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters today that that was valuable time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: He had the opportunity to ride with President Lopez Obrador from the airport back into town, which gave them the chance to just have a one-on-one chat – kind of how they’re seeing the world right now, what’s on their minds. I think they both got a lot out of it.

KELLY: (Laughter) I love this. I can picture them taking the scenic route. Do we know what they – did they manage to get anything of substance done beyond pleasantries?

KEITH: Sullivan said that was between the leaders, but already we’ve seen signs of strain. In what is normally a public exchange of pleasantries at the top of a bilateral meeting this evening between Biden and Lopez Obrador, they exchanged barbs of disagreement about historical spending by the U.S. in the hemisphere. Biden implied that Lopez Obrador was rewriting history and not giving the U.S. enough credit; though they did also say they planned to work through issues including strengthening supply chains, shared security, addressing fentanyl – that’s a drug smuggled in from Mexico that has killed tens of thousands of Americans – and also irregular migration.

KELLY: All right. NPR’s Tamara Keith, reporting today from Mexico City. Thank you.

KEITH: You’re welcome.

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