By David Luhnow, William Mauldin and Paul Vieira
Feb. 18, 2014 7:47 p.m. ET
MEXICO CITY—Mexico and Canada are set to push for expanded trade within North America and a bigger global role for their continental trading bloc, even as some U.S. politicians show deep ambivalence over foreign engagements.
“The most important thing is to strengthen this project—that at least my government is very dedicated to—of making North America a great center of competitiveness,” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, said in an interview late Monday. “And that this concept be fully shared by the three governments.”
The three countries’ leaders of will meet here Wednesday to celebrate 20 years of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but trade experts say the U.S. political appetite for more free-trade deals has waned, casting a shadow over efforts to expand the pact and deepen trade ties between North America and Pacific Rim countries.
The one-day meeting among Mr. Peña Nieto, Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper —an annual event often dubbed the “Three Amigos Summit”—will explore ways to update Nafta and advance a wider agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership being negotiated with Pacific rim nations like Japan, Australia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Messrs. Peña Nieto and Harper pledged at a bilateral meeting on Tuesday to move ahead on stronger diplomatic and commercial relations, although the thorny issue of visa restrictions on Mexicans visiting Canada remained unresolved.
The Obama administration is seeking the full support of its closest trading partners to increase leverage with Japan and other countries where major disagreements are unresolved, said former officials.
Mr. Harper is also expected to press Mr. Obama on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The project, which would boost crude-oil exports from landlocked Alberta, has faced extensive delays in part because of worries over the project’s environmental impact.
Mr. Obama travels to Mexico amid lingering uncertainty over the weak U.S. economic recovery. The White House says increased trade—especially exports—brings high-paying jobs and economic growth without tax increases.