President Barack Obama said Saturday that the U.S. places great importance on its trading relationships with Latin America and will continue working to improve those ties so the entire region can become more competitive in a 21st century world.
"If we do not have effective integration in our hemisphere, if we don't have the best education systems, the best regulatory systems, if we don't coordinate our activities, then we're going to fall behind other regions in the world," Obama said. "I'm confident that we can compete."
Obama commented at a forum on economic growth and development organized by a prominent business school in Costa Rica, where he was wrapping up a three-day trip to Latin America.
Obama, who has stressed trade and economic issues during the trip, said the United States considers its trading relationships with Mexico and the countries of Central America "to be of enormous importance."
"When you look at the scale of business that's being done currently, it's creating jobs in the United States, it's creating jobs here," he said. "What we want to do is to continue to find ways to enhance that relationship," get ideas, improve and foster small-business development.
"We now live in a very competitive 21st century world," the president said.
Obama has called during the trip for greater trade and economic cooperation with the U.S.'s southern neighbors, arguing that economic prosperity is the best antidote to drug and gang violence and, by extension, to the illegal immigration the U.S. is seeking to control.