Mexico hopes for migration deal as tariff deadline looms

Mexican officials warn that threatened US tariffs on Mexican goods could backfire.

    Mexico''s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reiterated Monday that the US and Mexico can reach a deal and avert threatened US tariffs on Mexican goods [File:Henry Romero/Reuters]
    Mexico''s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reiterated Monday that the US and Mexico can reach a deal and avert threatened US tariffs on Mexican goods [File:Henry Romero/Reuters]

    U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he told Mexican Economy Secretary Graciela Marquez in a meeting on Monday that Mexico must do more to help the United States address illegal immigration.

    Ross said in a statement he discussed the U.S. plan to hit Mexico with a 5% tariff next week on goods imported into the United States unless Mexico takes steps to curtail the flow of migrants.

    Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard warned Monday that President Donald Trump's planned punitive tariffs on Mexico would be "counterproductive" for cracking down on migrants, but the White House reiterated Trump's threat is serious.

    As markets reeled, officials on both sides said they thought a deal could be reached before potentially-damaging tariffs on Mexican exports to the United States are put in place on June 10.

    Trump, on a state visit to Britain, stepped up pressure in a tweet.

    "As a sign of good faith, Mexico should immediately stop the flow of people and drugs through their country and to our Southern Border," he wrote.

    Earlier, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in Mexico City that it was important to resolve the issue "through dialogue."

    "We are in favor of free trade, and we think an agreement can be reached," he said.

    "I want to continue being friends with President Donald Trump."

    Escalating tensions

    Trade tensions between the two neighbours escalated last week after President Trump threatened to slap five percent tariffs on all Mexican goods starting June 10th - and increase the rate in the coming months to 25 percent - if Mexico fails to take stronger measures to stem the flow of undocumented migrants seeking to cross into the US via Mexico. 

    Speaking at his regular press conference in Mexico City, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reiterated that he believed a deal could be reached to avert the tariffs.

    Mexican officials, speaking to reporters in Washington, warned that Trump's tariffs could backfire.

    Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said such tariffs would be devastating and would not stop waves of Central American migrants from crossing the southern US border.

    Mexico's ambassador to the US, Martha Barcena, said that, "tariffs, along with the decision to cancel aid programs to the northern Central American countries, could have a counterproductive effect and would not reduce migration flows."

    Barcena added that tariffs also "could cause financial and economic instability", reducing Mexican authorities' capacity to address migration flows and "offer alternatives" to migrants fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

    The discussions in Washington will include a meeting of Mexican Agriculture Minister Victor Villalobos and US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday, Mexican officials said.

    US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan also are expected to participate in talks, Mexican officials said.

    Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will also meet this week.

    Closely watched 

    The talks in Washington will be closely watched by financial markets concerned that import tariffs would ultimately hit the US economy by adding to the cost of a wide range of goods in the US, from Mexican-made cars and auto parts to beer and avocados.

    US business groups have opposed the tariff plan and the influential US Chamber of Commerce is looking at ways to challenge it, including legal options.

    Approval of a deal to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the US and Canada is also pending and could be hampered by the latest dispute over immigration, Mexican authorities said.

    Jesus Seade, Mexico's deputy foreign minister for North America, described the imposition of tariffs on Monday as a "stumbling block" that puts the passage of the trade deal at risk.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency