Secretary Ross, Mexico’s Economy Minister to Meet Ahead of Tariff Talks

June 2, 2019 Updated: June 2, 2019

A top Mexican official is scheduled to meet with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington on June 3, two days before a previously planned summit between the two neighboring countries to discuss newly imposed tariffs on Mexican goods.

The high-level discussions will start earlier than scheduled, after Mexico’s economy minister, Graciela Marquez, announced details of a meeting with Ross in a June 2 post on Twitter. Accompanying her post was a photo of her standing next to Ross. The pair had met while attending the inauguration of El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.

The earlier in-person meeting comes as Mexico attempts to defuse trade tensions resulting from the current migrant crisis on the border. President Donald Trump imposed a 5 percent tariff on all goods from Mexico, which will gradually increase to as much as 25 percent if Mexico fails to stop throngs of illegal immigrants from passing through the country to illegally enter the United States.

Days ago, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said he would lead a major delegation to meet with U.S. officials in Washington on June 5. Ebrard will be accompanied by deputy foreign minister for North America Jesus Seade. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will lead the U.S. delegation.

The White House didn’t respond by press time to a request for comment about the meeting.

Mexico’s deputy minister of foreign trade, Luz Maria de la Mora, later specified on Twitter that both countries would analyze their commercial relationship, adding that Mexico had become the United States’ largest trade partner in early 2019.

Meanwhile, in remarks on June 1, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador hinted that his country could tighten migration controls in a bid to avoid Trump’s newly imposed tariffs, signaling a push for dialogue.

Trump has said that Mexico hasn’t taken enough action to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the border, most of whom are entering Mexico from other Central American countries. Mexico’s economy, which relies heavily on exports to the United States, shrank in the first quarter. In the meantime, U.S. Border Patrol officials said that as of May 10, they had apprehended more than 500,000 illegal aliens on the southern border this fiscal year.

Lopez Obrador said at a news conference that Mexico wanted to reach a deal with the United States and to find a way to avoid the tariffs. He said he is expecting “good results” from the upcoming talks.

“The main thing is to inform about what we’re already doing on the migration issue, and if it’s necessary to reinforce these measures without violating human rights, we could be prepared to reach that deal,” Lopez Obrador said, adding that Mexico won’t attempt a trade war with the United States.

His remarks follow those of Seade, who told Reuters days ago that Mexico wants to sharpen existing measures to curb the flow of Central Americans entering the United States through the country.

The tariffs, Trump said previously, would go into effect June 10 and would increase until the “illegal immigration problem is remedied.” In April, U.S. border officers apprehended almost 99,000 people crossing the U.S. southern border, the highest monthly figure since 2007.

Trade Deal Won’t Be Affected

Top Trump administration officials said on June 2 that the president’s newly proposed tariffs won’t interfere with the finalization of a new North American trade pact.

Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the tariffs were “not interrelated” with the U.S.–Mexico–Canada trade deal, known as the USMCA, currently awaiting approval by U.S. Congress. He expected the 5 percent tariffs to take effect because “the president is deadly serious about fixing the situation at the southern border.”

Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the tariffs wouldn’t worsen Mexico’s economic situation and drive more migrants over the border, but rather incentivize Mexico to curtail the flow of Central American immigrants crossing through on the way to the United States.

“We need Mexico to step up and do more. And these crossings into Mexico are happening at a 150-mile stretch of their southern border,” McAleenan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is a controllable area. We need them to put their authorities down there and interdict these folks before they make this route all the way to the U.S.”

McAleenan said he wanted Mexico to bolster its own immigration screenings to crack down on the networks that are transporting the migrants throughout Mexico, and to enable more migrants to wait in Mexico while they apply for asylum in the U.S.

Previously, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNBC in a May 31 interview that the president’s move was not a “tariff war,” but simply a measure to get Mexico “to do what it should be doing.”

On June 2, Trump described Mexico as an “abuser” of the United States and offered an ultimatum: either stop the “invasion” along the southern border, or U.S. companies will be “brought back” through the new tariffs. The president made the comments in a string of early morning posts, ending one of them with “America has had enough!”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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