U.S., Mexican officials work on deal ahead of tariffs
WASHINGTON — Faced with stiff opposition from political allies over a potentially costly trade war with a major partner, President Donald Trump on Wednesday again threatened to impose escalating tariffs on Mexico, but also hinted at a possible route to back down.
Mexican officials, in a high-level meeting at the White House that lasted about two hours, offered a package of steps they were taking to meet Trump’s demands that they stem the flow of Central American migrants. They noted, however, that the measures, such as tougher checkpoints and more deportations, have been in place for months. The talks are scheduled to resume Thursday.
It was not clear, however, if the last- minute talks and warnings would be sufficient to stave off Monday’s scheduled tariff hike.
“Progress is being made. But not nearly enough!” Trump said on Twitter after the White House meeting ended.
Earlier, speaking to reporters during a visit to Ireland, Trump said he believed that Mexico “wants to make a deal.”
“The drugs that are coming in, the people that are coming in unchecked, they’re swamping our border,” Trump said. “Mexico can stop it. ... And I think they will stop it.”
But if Mexico doesn’t “step up,” he said, “the tariffs go on.”
Arturo Sarukhan, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States who now works as a consultant in Washington, said he expects to see the tariffs take effect Monday, although they might only remain in place briefly.
“My sense with this president is he wants to be able to prove he has slapped on tariffs, even if for just 48 hours, to be able to say he did it,” he said.
The White House meeting was chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and held at the urging of the Mexican government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who dispatched his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, to Washington after Trump threatened to hit Mexican imports with tariffs starting Monday.
The Mexican delegation grew to include several Cabinet members, among them the ministers of finance, agriculture, defense and navy, reflecting alarm in the Lopez Obrador government, already struggling with a stagnant economy.
Afterward, Ebrard described the talks as “respectful.”
“We could explain our position, they theirs, and nothing was rejected” out of hand, he said. “The important thing is there is a willingness to move more closely toward an understanding.”
Immigration flows have grown too high, and “it cannot go on as it is,” he added.
Trump has come under considerable pressure from fellow Republicans and from business leaders in agriculture, auto manufacturing and other economic sectors that generally have supported him, all warning of the dangers of imposing tariffs on a trading partner as large and integrated into the U.S. economy as Mexico.
Ebrard, too, cautioned that tariffs would be “devastating” to both nations’ economies and would force Mexico to consider retaliatory punitive measures.
There were several signs that the administration was looking for a way out.
Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser, who initially championed punishing the Mexican government, told CNN on Wednesday morning that the measures may no longer be necessary because the administration had succeeded in getting Mexico’s attention.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, who has been firmly opposed to the tariff plan, said he was confident it was going to be averted.
“There’s not going to be any tariffs,” Grassley said. He said he expected the Mexican delegation at the White House to present a “long list of things they’re going to offer to us” that would make tariffs unnecessary.
“I did have a good feeling about progress being made, and Mexico’s up here to make good-faith offers, and they know that this is a partnership that they want to maintain,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, made a similar prediction. “I do expect the Mexican administration and the White House to work out a deal,” he said. “No one wants to see tariffs, and the president knows that the Senate is not anxious to see tariffs.”