President-elect Barack Obama will meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday in Washington. Obama transition officials said the visit was in keeping with the tradition of U.S. presidents meeting with their Mexican counterpart soon after winning election.
Calderon, who was elected president in 2006, has been critical of U.S. immigration policies, and has advocated for the rights of Mexicans living in the U.S. In Mexico, Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa said Calderon also would meet with congressional leaders during his visit. "There isn't a defined agenda but we would like to talk about security, migration and the economy," Espinosa told reporters. Obama's transition office said the two leaders would meet at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington. The meeting comes a week before Obama's inauguration. One of Calderon's priorities is to press Obama to follow through on a U.S. aid program to help Mexico combat the drug trade. The Mexican president is battling drug traffickers blamed for killing 5,650 people last year. Calderon is also concerned about Obama's campaign promise to renegotiate North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. The deal has greatly expanded Mexican trade with its powerful neighbour since it went into effect in 1994 but is seen by US unions as a cause of job losses in big industrial states like Ohio. Mexico faces a significant challenge this year as the worldwide economic crisis worsens, sapping demand for exports and threatening jobs. Recessions in the US, which buys 80 percent of Mexican goods shipped abroad, as well as Japan and Europe present a risk to Mexico's economy. This week Mexico unveiled a stimulus plan which will see the government increase expenditure in infrastructure such as roads, airports and sea ports to the equivalent of 42.4 billion US dollars this year, announced President Calderón. The plan includes freezing the price of gasoline, cutting electricity rates for some industries, lowering the price of heating gas by 10%, increasing the amount of time the unemployed can receive health benefits, give aid to companies affected by the economic slowdown and allow the jobless to withdraw more money from their retirement accounts. "Mexico is not the exception" said president Calderon. "We are and will continue to live through a period of great difficulties in economic growth, investment and employment". The measures come as figures show Mexico's economy is weakening. GDP may expand 1% at best this year and may not grow at all, admitted Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz Mateos. The third-quarter economic growth of 1.6% was the lowest in five years. The country's manufacturing index fell to a record low in December, the sixth straight month the index showed contraction. Mexican economists expect the economy to shrink by 0.1% in 2009 as demand for exports slump, according to the Central Bank's most recent survey. Migule Messmacher, the Mexican Finance Ministry's chief economist, said Calderon's economic stimulus plan will add 120 billion pesos to the economy, or about 1% of GDP. The plan won't increase the budget deficit for this year because it will draw from last year's oil revenue, which was above the budgeted price, as well as from fiscal revenue, according to Messmacher. Excess oil revenue was about 100 billion pesos last year, he said.