WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Monday vowed a new effort to boost North American trade — and cut needless regulation that stifles it — in a summit that aimed to shore up a fragile economic recovery.
After a one-day summit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama said the United States has trimmed outdated and burdensome rules in talks with both its neighbors, but all three countries will now go beyond that.
"Our three nations are going to sit down together, go through the books and simplify and eliminate more regulations that will make our joint economies stronger," he said.
Obama noted trade among the three neighbors now tops $1 trillion a year, and he wants to see that number rise. "This is going to help create jobs," he said.
The summit ranged broadly across issues of energy and climate change, immigration and the war on drugs.
But notable by its absence from a post-summit news conference in the Rose Garden was the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada's oil sands in Alberta to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Obama shelved the plan pending further review — and has endured ferocious GOP attacks ever since, with Republicans calling the move a blow to job creation and U.S. energy needs. He maintains GOP leaders in Congress forced his hand by insisting on a decision before an acceptable pipeline route was found.
Harper has voiced disappointment with Obama's decision. He also visited China in February to explore alternatives. Canada has the world's third-largest oil reserves — more than 170 billion barrels — after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, and daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to rise to 3.7 million by 2025.
Obama, Harper and Calderon will see each other later this month at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. They're also well-known to each other from international gatherings — but are headed in different electoral directions.
While Obama faces a tough re-election battle for the next seven months, Calderon is term-limited. The battle to succeed him formally kicked off last week and will culminate with Mexican elections July 1. The main issue is the deadly war his government has waged with drug cartels, which has claimed an estimated 47,000 lives.
By contrast, Harper, who has led Canada since 2006, appears secure in his job, having led his Conservatives from minority status to a majority in Parliament in elections last May. He doesn't have to face voters again for four years.
Another reason Obama might envy Harper: thanks to that majority, the budget Harper's government introduced last week should pass easily, including its budget cuts designed to eliminate Canada's deficit by 2015.