WASHINGTON — Mexico launched a counteroffensive Monday against the threat of U.S. tariffs, warning not only that it would hurt the economies of both countries but also could cause a quarter-million more Central Americans to migrate north.
A high-level delegation from the Mexican government held a news conference at the embassy in Washington, making the case against President Donald Trump’s threat of imposing a 5% tariff on Mexican imports by June 10.
It is unclear what more Mexico can do — and what will be enough — to satisfy the president.
“As a sign of good faith, Mexico should immediately stop the flow of people and drugs through their country and to our Southern Border. They can do it if they want!” Trump tweeted Monday from London.
Trump’s Republican allies warn that tariffs on Mexican imports will hit U.S. consumers, harm the economy and jeopardize the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade pact that the White House wants Congress to approve.
“This calls into question our ability to pass the USMCA, much less get it passed by Canada and Mexico,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
The GOP senator said he couldn’t imagine the hit to the economy if the tariffs rise to 25%, as Trump has threatened.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard replied Monday that both countries working together is “the best way to do it.”
Mexico said it will only go so far to avert the duties, and absolutely ruled out a “third safe country” agreement that would require asylum seekers to apply for refuge in Mexico first.
“There is a clear limit to what we can negotiate, and the limit is Mexican dignity,” said Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena.
Barcena said Mexico has taken steps to offer migrants visas in Mexico, and “without Mexico’s efforts, an additional quarter-million migrants could arrive at the U.S. border in 2019.”
Barcena said Mexico has accepted 8,835 returned migrants as of May 29, and they are now waiting in the country for an asylum hearing in the U.S. courts.
The tariff threat comes just as the administration has been pushing for passage of the USMCA, which would update the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Agricultural trade between the United States and Mexico was worth about $130 million a day last year, according to Mexican Secretary of Agriculture Victor Villalobos. A 5% U.S. tariff would decrease that trade by $3.8 million a day, he said.