Obama to visit Mexico amid drug war, trade dispute

MEXICO CITY, March 18 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Mexico in April, the Mexican president's office and the White House said on Wednesday, amid surging drug violence along the border and a spat over free trade rules.

Obama will be in Mexico April 16-17 to discuss issues ranging from immigration and security to the global financial crisis, Mexican President Felipe Calderon's spokesman, Maximiliano Cortazar, told reporters.

The Obama's visit will follow a trip by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Mexico City and the northern business city of Monterrey scheduled for next week.

The high-level meetings come as the Obama administration is drafting a plan to address Mexico's escalating war with drug traffickers, blamed for some 6,300 murders last year, most of them near the shared border.

U.S. officials fear the violence could spill over into the United States, while their Mexican counterparts want stricter controls of U.S weapons smuggled into Mexico.

Obama and Calderon will "discuss how the United States and Mexico can work together to support Mexico's fight against drug-related violence and work toward effective, comprehensive immigration reform," the White House said in a statement.

The visit precedes the Summit of the Americas being held April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago.

Obama met with Calderon on Jan. 12 just days before his inauguration while the Mexican leader was on a visit to Washington.

The previous U.S. administration agreed to give Mexico and Central America $1.4 billion worth of equipment and training to fight the cartels, but the aid has been slow to arrive as the United States wants assurances it will not end up in the hands of corrupt police or officials working for drug gangs.

A sticky trade dispute that erupted this week between the two countries may also be on the agenda, after Mexico imposed higher tariffs on a list of 90 U.S. imports in retaliation for a U.S. ban on Mexican trucks in its territory.

Mexico, the United States' No. 3 trading partner, says the truck ban violates the North American Free Trade Agreement. (Reporting by Anahi Rama in Mexico City and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Eric Beech)