South of the border: Mexico's new president pays an important visit

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The visit to the United States and meeting Tuesday with President Barack Obama of newly elected but not yet inaugurated Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto was important to both presidents and to both countries.

Mr. Nieto, 46, was elected in July to a six-year term, which will mean that he will be Mr. Obama's counterpart during the American president's entire second term. Relations between the two countries have always been important, but have become especially so in the period since the implementation in 1994 of the three-nation, Canada, Mexico and the United States North American Free-Trade Agreement, NAFTA.

The relationship also includes domestic political issues on both sides of the 2,000-mile-long border. For Mr. Obama, the Hispanic vote played an important role in his reelection. Showing attention to issues with Mexico, and respect to its new president, wins points for Mr. Obama in American politics. It is also clear that immigration reform will need to be an item high on his agenda in his second term.

The immigration issue is not easy. There are an estimated 11 million to 12 million Mexicans in the United States, one tenth of the population of Mexico, and half of them are illegal. The flow of Mexican immigrants to the United States has slowed, in no small part because of rising unemployment in this country, but, if for nothing else than to head off Republican courting of them Mr. Obama must take action to straighten out America's messy immigration situation.

Mr. Nieto's primary interest in Mexico's relations with the United States at this point is to shift focus from matters of drugs and violence to the growth of the Mexican economy that he seeks.

Prospects look good. Mexican economic growth this year will reach 4 percent, twice that of the United States and twice that of Brazil, Mexico's principal Latin American rival. His goal is 6 percent by the end of his term in 2018. He looks primarily to Mexico's energy sector -- it has shale gas as well as oil -- and to manufacturing, taking advantage of a skilled and relatively inexpensive labor force and its NAFTA membership. Barriers include a weak judicial system, bribery and other corruption, the existence of inefficient monopolies in some key sectors and still weak social infrastructure, in spite of the existence of free, universal health care.

Mr. Nieto's early visit to Washington, followed by onward travel to Mexico's other NAFTA partner, Canada, constitutes a good start to his presidential term and Mr. Obama's second, given the importance of the relationship. It is important that Mr. Obama continue to pursue U.S. ties to Mexico and his to the new Mexican president.

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