Published September 20, 2013
With drugs, security and immigration dominating recent talks between the United States and Mexico,Vice President Joe Biden said Friday he wants to deepen U.S. relations with its southern neighbor and improve economic ties.
In a private meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto and other top officials at the presidential palace, Biden urged the two countries to develop a stronger economic partnership that can move "more people, goods and information across our border." The meeting launched the High Level Economic Dialogue to boost trade and investment ties.
“I’m glad we’re not just talking about an explicit security relationship,” Biden said in a joint statement with Peña Nieto. “We’re talking about a much broader relationship,” one that includes bilateral support in terms of cross border trade and promoting development in the North and Central America.
During the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, talks between the two nations generally focused on Mexico’s ongoing drug war and the effect the drug trade has on both nations.
Since taking office last year, Peña Nieto has tried to shift the focus to boosting the economic ties that bind the U.S. and Mexico.
“Peña Nieto wants to refocus and refine the bilateral relationship from security to an economic dialogue,” said Christopher Wilson, an associate at the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Vice President Biden characterized Mexico's reforms as "historic changes," saying they would help the country "establish a new role in the 21st century." In educational cooperation, Biden said the two countries have great opportunities for increased academic and student exchanges and joint research.
“Education is one of those topics like the weather that everybody wants to talk about but nobody knows what to do about,” Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society told Fox News Latino. “But what’s interesting is that this discussion is coming when Mexico is reforming its own education system.”
Referring to the recent marches by protesting teachers that have choked Mexico City streets, Biden quipped that he thought the masses had assembled to welcome him.
"I was disappointed when I found out that the 15,000 out there weren't hollering 'Biden, Biden,'" he said.
Biden met with Peña Nieto as the president was dealing with massive flooding in the southern state of Guerrero.
Analysts said that the speeches by Biden and Peña Nieto were unsurprising given the vice president’s reason for traveling to Mexico, but that the meetings did signify a shift in U.S-Mexican relations away from the security issue and focus more on the economy touted by both Peña Nieto and U.S. President Barack Obama.
“It’s a signal that both governments are trying to bolster the economic relationship,” Farnsworth said. “They are not unaware of [the security] issue that effects both countries, but both leaders want to deal with this through the back channels and not have it dominate the dialogue between the countries.”
Before meeting with Peña Nieto, Biden said the U.S. could provide assistance for storm recovery if Mexico wanted it. He said he was traveling next to see the flooding in Colorado.
“The United States stands ready to offer any assistance we can to help with this natural disaster and your people,” Biden said during his remarks with Peña Nieto.
Biden spoke earlier in the day following a meeting with Mexico's secretaries of finance, foreign affairs, tourism, economy and education. He is traveling with the U.S. secretaries of commerce, homeland security and transportation, and the U.S. trade representative.
Obama announced the bilateral economic dialogue in a visit to Mexico in May. According to the White House, the annual cabinet-level meetings are designed to promote mutual growth, job creation and economic competitiveness.
"I have personally at the request of the president focused on the Middle East, Syria and events in that region. But the president made clear to me, and as they say he was pushing on an open door, that no matter what occupies us immediately, it is important for us to be here," Biden said. "President Obama is deeply interested in the maturation of our relationship at every level."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.