By Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said a trip to Mexico this week will center on economic issues such as trade and energy but security issues will not be far behind.
"A lot of the focus is going to be on economics," Obama said during a news conference. "We've spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner, responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border."
Obama is due to visit Mexico on Thursday, holding meetings and having dinner with President Enrique Pena Nieto. He will also travel to Costa Rica and meet with Central American presidents.
Mexico grew at a robust 3.9 percent annualized growth rate in 2012 and is on track for growth of around 3.5 percent in 2013, according to the World Bank. It is the United States' third-largest trading partner and its second-largest source of oil.
But violence from organized crime remains an irritant in the bilateral relationship. While the Mexican government has said that killings linked to organized crime fell 14 percent in the four months of Pena Nieto's presidency, more than 70,000 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since 2007, and gruesome killings continue to grab headlines.
Obama said security would likely also be a topic of conversation among leaders in both Mexico and Costa Rica. He said he would withhold judgment about Mexico's announcement that it will streamline its security contacts with U.S. agencies until after he has a chance to discuss it with his counterpart.
"Some of the issues that he's talking about really had to do with refinements and improvements in terms of how Mexican authorities work with each other, how they coordinate more effectively, and it has less to do with how they're dealing with us," Obama said.
Obama praised Pena Nieto's early initiatives.
"Overall what I can say is that my impression is, is that the new president is serious about reform," Obama said. "He's already made some tough decisions. I think he's going to make more that will improve the economy and security of Mexican citizens."
(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)