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U.S., Mexico mull relaxing border for 'trusted' travelers

Feb. 19, 2014 at 2:00 AM   |   Comments

TOLUCA, Mexico, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- President Obama and Mexico's president may cut a deal to relax border controls for "trusted" travelers, officials said ahead of a North American leaders summit.

The agreement, which would let frequent international travelers willing to undergo background checks and pay a $100 fee avoid immigration lines and expedite customs declaration when traveling within North America, was expected to be announced Wednesday when Obama, Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet in Mexico, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

The deal, at a time of stalled U.S. immigration reform, would underscore the disparity between accelerating U.S.-Mexican financial integration and creating U.S. laws affecting the 11 million immigrants living in the United States without legal permission, the newspaper said.

The agreement, which is expected to apply to the U.S. borders with both Mexico and Canada, would also require increased information sharing between national authorities and would likely be carefully scrutinized carefully on Capitol Hill, the Guardian said.

It would come during a summit that will also mark 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect.

NAFTA, which went into effect Jan. 1, 1994, created a rules-based North American free-trade zone.

The one-day "Three Amigos" summit is to be held at a Mexican government palace in the fast-growing industrial city of Toluca, 40 miles west-southwest of Mexico City.

The meeting is also widely expected to focus on immigration reform, the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline and a major new Asian trade agreement, officials cited by the Washington Post said.

But with U.S. immigration stalled in Congress and Washington at loggerheads with Ottawa over the pipeline, the countries agreed to focus on improving commercial ties rather than the more contentious social or environmental issues, officials told the Guardian.

-- Immigration reform: Obama and Pena Nieto are expected to discuss border controls, with Obama emphasizing the administration remains committed to pursuing comprehensive legislation, the Post said.

-- Keystone XL pipeline: The State Department ruled last month the $5.4 billion pipeline system -- which would carry crude oil and highly viscous petroleum 2,151 miles from the unconventional petroleum deposits of Alberta, Canada, to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries in Texas and Louisiana -- would not significantly accelerate global greenhouse gas emissions.

But Secretary of State John Kerry must also review other factors before making a recommendation to Obama, the White House says.

Environmentalists and some U.S. lawmakers oppose the pipeline, arguing that despite the State Department report, it would exacerbate greenhouse-gas emissions by speeding oil-sands development. Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs construction jobs.

-- Asian trade agreement: The proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership seeks to enhance trade and investment among partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs.

The countries involved include the United States, Mexico and Canada, along with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The deal is a priority in the White House's attempt to pivot toward Asia in its foreign policy, the Post said.

Obama is expected to leave the White House for Mexico starting around 8:15 a.m. and arrive in Toluca around 12:10 p.m. CST (1:10 p.m. EST), the White House said.

He is first expected to meet privately with Pena Nieto, then have a working lunch with Pena Nieto and Harper, later have a "walk and talk" with Harper and then deliver remarks with the other leaders around 4:50 p.m., the White House said.

After the remarks, the leaders are expected to have the official summit, known as the Trilateral North American Leaders Summit Meeting, and then hold a joint news conference at 7:15 p.m.

Obama is expected to leave Mexico at 8:50 p.m. and be back at the White House at 2:05 a.m. Thursday, the White House said.

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