US President Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will meet Friday in San Francisco to discuss the fentanyl and migration crises that straddle their shared border. The talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) regional summit come as the two issues promise to weigh heavily in next year’s US election, in which Biden is seeking a second term. The two leaders will “talk about a range of issues including migration, cooperation to combat the scourge of fentanyl trafficking, growing our incredibly vibrant economic cooperation with Mexico, and building on broad cooperation on a whole host of issues,” said Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for Latin America. Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena agreed that one of the central topics would be the trafficking of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that has caused tens of thousands of deaths in the United States.
The last time the two presidents met was in January at a North American leaders’ summit in Mexico. Lopez Obrador frequently shuns international meetings. Chinese President Xi Jinping promised at a historic, tension-easing summit with Biden in San Francisco to crack down on the production of fentanyl ingredients in China as the drug continues to flood into the United States. But Washington will now be pushing Mexico to close the loop and do more against the manufacture of the drug that US officials allege is being made by Mexican cartels. Lopez Obrador’s administration denies the accusation and claims that everything comes from Asia. The Mexican president also addressed the issue when he met Xi on Thursday in his first face-to-face talks with the Chinese leader. Lopez Obrador “emphasized the importance of reaching an agreement to exchange information on shipments leaving Asia,” his foreign ministry said in a statement after the meeting.- Border crisis -The fact that both Xi and Biden have met the Mexican leader shows how crucial the North American nation is as rivals Beijing and Washington try to win over Asia-Pacific allies.
Another thorny issue between Biden and Lopez Obrador will be the migration crisis along the 1,900-mile (3,100-kilometer) border that the two countries share. Illegal immigration has become a major political headache for Democrat Biden, whose likely Republican opponent next year, the hard-right populist Donald Trump, bases much of his campaign around tightening border policies. Foreign Minister Barcena said the Mexicans will discuss with Biden “how to develop the border. The idea is to improve the infrastructure” on both sides.
The United States has documented record numbers of border crossings thanks partly to a high number of Venezuelans fleeing the political and economic crisis under Nicolas Maduro. Biden has been taking a tougher stance, requesting $14 billion in border funds from Congress in October as part of a huge national security package that also includes military aid for Israel and Ukraine. Earlier this month his administration announced plans to extend the border wall with Mexico, a policy that was introduced by Trump and which Biden had previously said he would never follow. Biden and Lopez Obrador will also discuss their economic ties. The United States is Mexico’s main trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching a record $860 billion last year. The Mexican leader had announced in September that he would skip the APEC summit because of a diplomatic rift with Peru, which is due to receive the grouping’s rotating presidency. Lopez Obrador then changed his mind because he was interested in maintaining “a very good relationship with the US government.” – Danny KEMP