Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Saturday said relations with the United States should “generate mutual respect and build confidence,” a day after US President Donald Trump renewed his commitment to building a wall on the border between the two neighbors.
Speaking at the end of his trip to Hamburg for the G20 meeting, Pena Nieto told reporters that the relationship with the United States, Mexico’s top trading partner, should instead focus on more positive ends – a view that he believed Trump also shared.
The US-Mexico relationship cannot be defined by “murmurs,” he added.
“Given what happened after this meeting (with Trump), clearly our bilateral relationship cannot be defined by murmurs like those that took place yesterday,” Pena Nieto said.
“Our relationship needs to be based on searching for ways to generate mutual respect, build confidence and work with a positive attitude. I can say that I saw that willingness in President Trump.”
For the first time since becoming president in January, Trump met Pena Nieto on Friday. Trump has accused Mexico of stealing US jobs, and complex talks over renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are due to begin on August 16.
The meeting at the Hamburg leaders’ summit of the Group of 20 economies was keenly anticipated in Mexico, and officials were quick to stress talks had been productive, despite Trump repeating that Mexico would pay for his planned border wall.
In response to a shouted question from a reporter about whether he still wants Mexico to pay for the border wall, which aims to keep out illegal immigrants, Trump said, “Absolutely.”
US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly struck a conciliatory tone as he wrapped up a three-day trip to Mexico.
“I cannot stress enough how valuable the US-Mexico relationship is to each of our nations,” he said.
He said his visit had highlighted the neighbors’ common ground on trade, migration and fighting “the scourge of illegal drugs — with special emphasis on the heroin, cocaine and fentanyl that is flooding the hemisphere and resulting in deaths in both our countries.”
Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong also emphasized the countries’ common ground after meeting with Kelly.
“We are exploring new forms of cooperation on issues such as fighting arms trafficking, fighting transnational organized crime” and the “dignified” repatriation of deported Mexican immigrants, he said.
Disputes over immigration, Trump’s border wall – which Mexico has repeatedly said it would not pay for – and his claim that free trade with Mexico costs jobs in the United States, have strained relations between the two neighbors.
Trump has threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Mexican goods to protect US industry, and to pull out of NAFTA altogether if he cannot rework it in the United States’ favor.
Pena Nieto also met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday, according to a readout of the meeting, in which Pena Nieto said he was working closely with Canada to come up with a better, mutually beneficial update to NAFTA.