MEXICO CITY — Vice President Joe Biden, in the Mexican capital Friday for meetings with government officials and business leaders, said he was glad to be focusing on trade rather than on security issues, and argued that an economically prosperous Mexico would strengthen the economy of the United States.
Biden said that his visits to Mexico as a senator in previous decades were "mostly about security issues — mostly about drugs, mostly about immigration. And finally — finally — we have reached the point we should have reached a long time ago, I think … where we're looking at the relationship as partners, in a wholesome way."
The vice president spoke Friday morning in Mexico's Foreign Relations building to open what is planned to be a yearly "High Level Economic Dialogue" between Mexican and U.S. officials. The government of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has been trying to shift attention away from the country's drug war and toward its economic potential.
Changing the subject has been complicated in recent months by an economic slowdown, continued drug-related violence, and high-profile scandals including the release of Rafael Caro Quintero, an infamous drug lord who had been imprisoned for the slaying of an American drug enforcement agent in 1985.
Such matters will apparently be handled with discretion while the two countries continue to publicly trumpet their strengthened economic ties.
American officials said security and other matters might be discussed in a closed-door meeting later between Biden and Mexico's vice president. In advance of Biden's visit, both sides were adamant there would be little public talk of recent allegations that the U.S. spied on Pena Nieto last year, when he was a presidential candidate.
Biden said he was aiming to strengthen cross-border economic bonds forged by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Officials say the accord has quadrupled the rate of exchange between the two countries since it was signed in 1994.
The subsequent expansion of a Mexican consumer class, Biden said, has benefited the U.S., opening up new export opportunities.
"As wages increase here, the whole world benefits," he said. "We benefit."
Before the meeting, Mexican officials said they were keen to improve the flow of goods and people across the border, where free trade is complicated by U.S. concerns about unauthorized immigrants and the massive flow of drugs northward.
Biden, on numerous occasions, made a point of telling the Mexicans that he didn't want to seem like he was lecturing or condescending. But he mentioned that countries like Mexico would thrive if they focused on improving their justice systems and strengthening intellectual property rights.
The U.S. has spent millions in recent years to help Mexico improve transparency in its dysfunctional courts. The U.S. entertainment industry, meanwhile, complains about widely tolerated bootlegging of U.S. movies and music here.
Biden argued a stronger culture of intellectual property ownership would be good for Mexico as well, because it would stimulate "home-grown innovative capacity."