Trump Halts Tariffs as Mexico Agrees to Control Illegal Immigration

Trump last week threatened to impose the 5% tariff on Mexican imports…

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(Tracy Wilkinson and Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times) After marathon talks and threats of economic sanctions, Mexico and the United States have reached an agreement to curb immigration and avert punitive U.S. tariffs on Mexican exports, President Donald Trump tweeted Friday.

Trump and Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador both had expressed reserved optimism that a compromise was possible earlier. But the two sides had key differences on immigration, and details of the deal were not immediately available.

Trump announced the deal in a series of tweets.

Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, met with U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and other officials at the State Department for more than 10 hours as the two sides considered how best to reduce the migrant flow.

Ebrard informed the U.S. delegation of a 4-month-old Mexican operation to deploy some units of a 60,000-member National Guard at Mexico’s southern borders to assist in recent efforts to detain and deport Central Americans.

Mexican officials have complained that the Trump administration has failed to acknowledge its efforts in trying to choke off the flow of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Trump last week threatened to impose the 5% tariff on Mexican imports, with monthly increases until the tariffs top out at 25% in October, unless Mexico does more to stop the growing flow of Central American migrants heading north to seek asylum in the United States.

On Twitter, Trump said there was still a “good chance” that the two sides would make a deal to waive the tariffs and prevent consumer prices from rising on both sides of the border.

“If we are able to make the deal with Mexico, & there is a good chance that we will, they will begin purchasing Farm & Agricultural products at very high levels, starting immediately,” Trump tweeted from Air Force One as he flew back from Ireland after a five-day visit to the United Kingdom and France.

“If we are unable to make the deal, Mexico will begin paying Tariffs at the 5% level on Monday!” Trump added.

Mexico last year was the No. 2 market for U.S. agricultural products, buying $19 billion worth of fruit, vegetables and other products.

Mexico’s agriculture secretary, Victor Villalobos, met this week with his U.S. counterpart, Sonny Perdue. No new trade accords were announced.

The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said negotiators had “made a lot of progress” since talks began Wednesday.

“The meetings have gone well, but, as of now, we’re still on track for tariffs on Monday,” she added.

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, who led an early round of the talks with Mexico, said that the legal notification of the tariffs was filed Friday but that if sufficient progress were made toward a deal with Mexico, the administration could rescind the notification.

“There’s a long way to go, that’s the bottom line,” Short told reporters at the White House. Short also said the Trump administration was pleased to see Mexico was “open” to discussing some of Trump’s demands.

In Mexico City, at his daily news conference, Lopez Obrador complained forcefully that the U.S. team continues to see immigration as a law enforcement issue without taking into consideration the hardships that force people to flee home.

“They are not even analyzing the causes, only the effects. They are not taking into account the profound crisis in Central America,” where many people “have no options, no alternatives,” the president said.

“We have been insisting that the causes must be dealt with, that Central America be supported with productive activities, employment, welfare, so that migration is optional, not forced,” he added.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist populist who took office in December, said he would lead a rally Saturday in the northern Mexican city of Tijuana to “defend Mexico’s destiny” and to announce what he suggested were new ideas on immigration.

He invited Mexican lawmakers, religious leaders, Supreme Court justices, governors and other dignitaries to attend.

The Trump administration’s anti-immigration policy has targeted asylum, the legal protection of migrants fleeing violence or other dire domestic conditions. Asylum claims, which are a legal form of entering the country, have surged recently, but Trump has denounced them as a hoax.

Mexico has repeatedly rejected a Trump demand that it be declared a “safe third country,” which would require migrants from Central America and elsewhere to apply for asylum in Mexico rather than continuing north to the United States. Trump administration officials think the designation would significantly reduce the number of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

For the first time Friday, Lopez Obrador did not rule out the “safe third country” measure but did not express support for it.

It would be politically toxic for his government to enact the measure, in part because critics would view it as doing Trump’s dirty work. The Mexican side might be willing to accept a watered-down version that encourages some asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico, as it has done before.

Economists, many Republican lawmakers and business leaders have warned that the escalating tariffs would raise prices for U.S. consumers and damage both nations’ economies.

The U.S. imported around $350 billion in goods from Mexico last year, from car parts and TV sets to fresh fruits, vegetables and tequila.

The move also jeopardizes the updated North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico and championed by Trump. It still must be ratified by Congress in each country.

“It is unfortunate,” Lopez Obrador said, “that migration issues are being mixed with trade issues.”

(Cecilia Sanchez in The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.)

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