MEXICO CITY — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Friday that he wants to deepen relations between the neighboring countries beyond drugs, security and immigration.
Launching the High Level Economic Dialogue to boost trade and investment ties, Biden urged the two countries to develop a stronger economic partnership that can move "more people, goods and information across our border."
"We have a billion dollars a day in trade. Is there any businessman or woman here who can't rationally picture in 10 years that being $2 billion?" Biden asked at the Foreign Ministry before he met with the president. "We cannot settle for business as usual."
Biden later talked with Pena Nieto about expanding trade between the countries by improving border crossing infrastructure and keeping international bridges open longer hours so more goods can move across. The meeting came just weeks after revelations that the National Security Agency had monitored Pena Nieto's emails before his 2012 election.
"There is no relationship that we value more, there is no economic relationship that we think holds the most promise and there is no part of the world that has the opportunity to do as much to generate economic growth over the next 20 or 30 years in the hemisphere," Biden said after the meeting.
Pena Nieto has been dealing with massive flooding in the southern state of Guerrero and street protests by teachers opposed to his education reforms.
Biden offered to provide assistance for storm recovery if Mexico asked for it. He said he was traveling next to see the flooding in Colorado.
The vice president also characterized Mexico's reforms as "historic changes" that would help the country "establish a new role in the 21st century." During his first nine months, Pena Nieto worked with the country's two main opposition parties to pass reforms of the tightly concentrated telecommunications market and the union-controlled education system.
In educational cooperation, Biden said the two countries have great opportunities for increased academic and student exchanges and joint research.
Pena Nieto said he set a goal with Biden for 100,000 Mexican students go study in the U.S. and 50,000 U.S. students study in Mexico.
"Vice President Biden's visit in Mexico reaffirms our government's common vision and the interest we have in making our region of North America stronger, more solid and consolidated," said Pena Nieto.
Before his meeting with Mexico's leader, Biden referred to the recent marches by protesting teachers that have choked Mexico City streets, and quipped that he thought the masses had assembled to welcome him.
"I was disappointed when I found out that the 15,000 out there weren't hollering `Biden, Biden,'" he said.
Biden met with Mexico's secretaries of finance, foreign affairs, tourism, economy and education. He is traveling with the U.S. secretaries of commerce, homeland security and transportation and the U.S. trade representative.
President Barack Obama announced the bilateral economic dialogue in a visit to Mexico in May. According to the White House, the annual Cabinet-level meetings are designed to promote mutual growth, job creation and economic competitiveness.
"I have personally at the request of the president focused on the Middle East, Syria and events in that region. But the president made clear to me, and as they say he was pushing on an open door, that no matter what occupies us immediately, it is important for us to be here," Biden said.
Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, participated in Friday's dialogue on the role of the private sector. He agrees that the two countries should have a bilateral approach to infrastructure and investment.
"Let's make the border seamless. ... the technology exists," he said. "It's just a question of getting the two governments to implement something."
The challenge, he said, is keeping the governments focused on building closer economic ties and producing results.
"How does this get prioritized versus other issues?" Brilliant said. "After all, the president is a little distracted in Washington by the debt ceiling, fiscal issues, crises in the Middle East. We have to make sure that we don't forget that our own future resides in part on how we strengthen North American competitiveness, and that ties back to Mexico."
Associated Press writer Katherine Corcoran contributed to this report.