Last week, I was proud to visit Mexico for the fourth time as president and to meet with Central American leaders in Costa Rica. It was a chance for me to reaffirm our friendship with a region to which tens of millions of immigrants and Americans trace their roots.
It was also an opportunity to highlight the impressive progress being made across Latin America, one of the world’s most dynamic regions, and forge new partnerships that will help improve the lives of all our citizens.
I went because this is a moment of great promise for our hemisphere. Today, almost all the people of the Americas live in democracies. Latin America has some of the world’s fastest growing economies. And across the region, tens of millions of people have escaped poverty and entered the middle class.
This represents an incredible opportunity for all our countries, especially when it comes to my top priority: creating good, middle-class jobs here in America. Because, as I saw in my visit to the port of Miami in March, one of the best ways to do that is by expanding trade that allows us to sell more products around the world.
Right now, over 40 percent of our exports go to Mexico, Central and South America, and those exports are growing faster than our trade with the rest of the world. That’s creating more jobs here in the United States, but it’s also benefitting people across the entire hemisphere. The United States is the largest source of foreign investment in the Americas. And the trade agreements I’ve signed with Colombia and Panama are creating new markets for businesses in our countries.
One of our largest, most dynamic relationships is with Mexico. The United States is Mexico’s largest customer, buying most of Mexico’s exports, and Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. exports, buying more than $200 billion worth of products Made in America each year. Our companies and workers assemble products together. All this supports millions more jobs in both countries.
I believe that there’s even more that the people of the United States and Mexico can build together. That’s why President Peña Nieto and I committed to expanding trade and investment and creating even more jobs for our people.
I conveyed a similar message to President Chinchilla of Costa Rica and other Central American leaders. Over the last six years, U.S. exports to Central American nations have increased by over 94 percent, and imports from those countries have risen by nearly 87 percent. Broad-based economic growth is reinforcing the hard-won political and social gains of the last two decades. And that’s why I reaffirmed the United States’ strong support and commitment to building a more prosperous Central America.
That’s important, because broad-based economic growth doesn’t just create more jobs and opportunity in these countries — it also reduces illegal immigration to the United States. Commonsense immigration reform is one of my top priorities. The bill introduced in the Senate doesn’t include everything I want, but it’s largely consistent with the principles I’ve laid out: better border security, a path to citizenship, and a legal immigration system that unites families and attracts highly-skilled workers. And I’m hopeful that we can make comprehensive immigration reform a reality this year.
Today, tens of millions of Americans trace their origins back to Mexico and Central America. Millions of workers are earning a living from good jobs made possible by the trade between our nations. The United States is a more prosperous and more diverse country thanks to our partnerships with our southern neighbors. And I’m confident that we can build on our common heritage, our economic relationship and our shared values to enrich the lives of all our people.