WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto Thursday "renewed their commitment" to the U.S.-Mexico relationship, the White House said.
In a statement following a meeting between the two leaders in Mexico City, the administration said Obama and Pena Nieto "underscored the strategic importance of the bilateral relationship and expressed a desire for even greater cooperation between their two nations" on issues including economic competitiveness and "citizen security."
"The two Presidents agreed on the need to continue forging a close and productive economic relationship to enhance their nations' competitiveness and to create more trade and investment opportunities," the White House said. "With this purpose, they decided to establish a High Level Economic Dialogue, which will be chaired at the cabinet level and focus on promoting competitiveness, productivity and connectivity, fostering economic growth and innovation, and partnering for global leadership. The leaders intend for the first meeting of the Dialogue to take place later this year, include representatives from relevant agencies and departments from both governments, and engage with relevant stakeholders, notably the private sector."
Obama and Pena Nieto also discussed working with Canada "to make North America the most dynamic and competitive region in the world."
The Mexico City meetings come as a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers seeks to navigate comprehensive immigration-reform legislation through Congress this month.
"We've had a good level of dialogue [with Mexico] and have kept each other informed about the process, but we've emphasized on our side that [immigration reform] is a domestic political issue, primarily," Ricardo Zuniga, the National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere, told reporters Wednesday.
"It's not an issue where they've tried to become involved in our process, which is something that we very much appreciate," he said.
Pena Nieto faces pressure from some Mexican interests to take a more public stand in the immigration debate, The Washington Post said.
Obama's schedule called for him to meet with Pena Nieto, who assumed office five months ago, at Mexico's National Palace and then visit the U.S. Embassy before meeting with Pena Nieto again around 7:15 p.m. for a working dinner, the White House said.
Obama will spend the night in Mexico City.
He will travel to Costa Rica Friday to discuss economic, energy and security issues with a gathering of the Central American leaders.
He will return to Washington Saturday.
The three-day trip is meant to focus on security and, most of all, promoting trade with Mexico, Obama said.
"A lot of the focus is going to be on economics," Obama told a news conference Tuesday.
"We've spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border," he said.
On security, Mexico has placed new restrictions on intelligence sharing with the United States, pulling back on the extraordinary access the previous Mexican administration gave U.S. authorities in prosecuting the drug war and organized crime.
The White House sought to downplay the growing sense of friction between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies over Mexico's new restrictions on intelligence sharing.
"Dealing with trafficking, narcotics and those security issues is one piece of the relationship with Mexico, but it is not by any means the only piece," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday.
"We are looking to make progress on all fronts, including our trade relationship, economic relationship, cultural relationship and other areas," Carney said.
Obama's arrival comes two weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry told a U.S. House committee hearing he considered the hemisphere the U.S. "back yard" -- a characterization widely perceived in Latin America as a condescending sign of disrespect.
Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development Wednesday to protest Kerry's remark.