'Three Amigos' look to reduce trade frictions, Keystone nags

Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:10pm EST
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By Mark Felsenthal and Lizbeth Diaz

TOLUCA, Mexico (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and his Canadian and Mexican counterparts on Wednesday discussed ways to reduce any trade frictions at a summit in central Mexico, but clear divisions remained over the Keystone XL oil pipeline project.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said earlier this month that the 20-year anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the three nations was an appropriate moment to look at how to "upgrade" North American trade ties.

However, retooling the trade pact between Canada, Mexico and the United States is not necessary because trans-Pacific talks will cover any gaps left by NAFTA, Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said this week.

"We have every incentive to make this work," Obama said in the central city of Toluca after meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The NAFTA bloc leaders are dubbed the "Three Amigos".

"So a lot of our conversation has focused on how do we reduce any continuing trade frictions, how do we make sure that our borders are more efficient?" he added. "We're going to keep investing in infrastructure like roads, bridges, border crossings so our goods are getting to market faster."

Earlier on Wednesday, while aboard Air Force One, Obama signed an executive order that will attempt to speed from days to minutes how quickly small businesses gain U.S. government approval for exports or imports.

The top bilateral economic issue between the United States and Canada is the proposed $5 billion Keystone pipeline project, which would transport Canadian crude deep into the U.S. and shape the distribution of crude supplies in the region.

Asked about Keystone, Obama highlighted climate change as a concern.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) arrives with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (C) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper to attend a news conference at the North American Leaders' Summit in Toluca near Mexico City, February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Henry Romero