President Obama wrapped up a mini-summit meeting with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts Monday. The leaders made no big breakthroughs, but agreed to continue cooperating to battle the recession, violent drug traffickers and the spread of swine flu.
By most accounts, the three countries' response to the outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus this spring was a model of cross-border coordination. The three leaders pledged to continue that effort when the new flu season begins in the fall.
President Obama called for a similar approach to curing the ailing economy.
"The global recession has cost jobs and hurt families from Toronto to Toledo to Tijuana," Obama said. "So we renew our commitment to work together in Ottawa, Washington and Mexico City."
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico together make up an enormous trading bloc, and the three countries hope to build on that with improved border crossings and reduced red tape.
There are still some roadblocks on the NAFTA highway, though.
Mexico complains that its trucks have been denied access to U.S. roadways, despite the North American Free Trade Agreement.
And Obama got an earful from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the controversial "Buy American" provision in the U.S. stimulus package.
"I want to assure you, your prime minister raises this every time we see each other," Obama told a Canadian reporter.
One form of trade the three countries would like to stop is illegal drugs. Mexican President Felipe Calderon won praise for his government's crackdown on drug traffickers. Thousands of people have been killed in recent years as the cartels battle the government and one another. But Calderon insisted the aggressive efforts are working.
"We are destroying their criminal organization. We're hitting them hard. We're hitting at the heart of their organizations. We're making them back away," he said, through a translator.
The U.S. has been stepping up its own efforts to limit southbound shipments of money and guns to the drug traffickers. Although concerns over alleged human rights abuses by the Mexican government threaten to hold up some U.S. aid, Obama said he is confident that Mexico can fight the drug war without compromising human rights.
"The biggest, by far, violators of human rights right now are the cartels themselves that are kidnapping people and extorting people and encouraging corruption in these regions," he said. "That's what needs to be stopped. That's what President Calderon is committed to doing. And that's what I'm committed to helping President Calderon accomplish."
The three leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to restoring democratic rule in Honduras, where President Manuel Zelaya was forced from office in a June coup.
Obama brushed off criticism from those such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that the U.S. isn't doing enough in Honduras.
"The same critics who say the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we're always intervening and that Yankees need to get out of Latin America," Obama said. "You can't have it both ways."
Even in Mexico, Obama could not escape the U.S. health care debate. He told a Canadian reporter that even though a Canadian-style health care plan is not an option in the U.S., Canada's system is likely to remain a boogeyman for opponents of the U.S. overhaul.
After less than 24 hours in Mexico, Obama returned to the U.S. for what promises to be more vigorous discussion of health care.