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Trump says much work to be done to avoid start of tariffs

Updated June 6, 2019 - 4:46 am

WASHINTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that a “lot of progress” must be made to halt the import taxes he is holding out as a way to force Mexico to stanch the flow of Central American migrants flooding America’s southern border.

Talks were to resume later Thursday.

Underscoring the scope of the border problem, the Department of Homeland Security announced separately that U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants illegally crossing the border hit the highest level in more than a decade in May: 132,887 apprehensions, including a record 84,542 adults and children together, 36,838 single adults and 11,507 children traveling alone.

Trump, renewing his threat of import taxes on all Mexican goods, tweeted from Ireland that the Washington talks would continue “with the understanding that, if no agreement is reached, Tariffs at the 5% level will begin on Monday, with monthly increases as per schedule.”

“We’re having a great talk with Mexico,” Trump told reporters in Ireland before leaving for France to attend a D-Day ceremony. “We’ll see what happens. But something pretty dramatic could happen. We’ve told Mexico the tariffs go on. And I mean it, too. And I’m very happy with it.”

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said immigration, not tariffs, was the main focus at the White House meeting, which included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and other U.S. officials.

Trump was out of town for a state visit to Britain and D-Day commemorations, though he has fired Twitter shots from across the sea to repeat his vow to impose tariffs unless Mexico takes tougher action to halt migration across its territory to the United States.

“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!” he tweeted Monday.

A Mexican official familiar with the bilateral relationship said the lobbying effort includes meetings with members of Congress, think tanks, businessmen and current and former U.S. governors.

“The goal is to gain time and try to deactivate the threat,” said the official, who agreed to discuss the effort only if not quoted by name. The official said Mexico was in a “Catch 22” situation because while it has stepped up immigration enforcement, it cannot brag publicly about it because of domestic political tensions.

“There is a fine line between what we can say and what we cannot,” the official said. “The U.S. knows where we are and keeps pushing. We are between a rock and a hard place.”

The issue has allied Mexico’s government with influential sectors in the U.S. that say the tariffs would damage both nations, whose economies are intertwined. Most of Mexico’s exports go to the U.S., and Mexico is the United States’ top trading partner.

Legal action possible

Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, visited the Mexican Embassy on Tuesday and was expected to meet with top Mexican businessmen this week. The chamber said recently it was considering legal action to block the tariffs from going into effect.

“These tariffs will be paid by American families and businesses without doing a thing to solve the very real problems at the border,” said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president.

The Mexican mission also includes Sen. Hector Vasconcelos and Congressman Mario Delgado, and the president of one of Mexico’s top business associations, Carlos Salazar Lomelín, former head of Coca Cola FEMSA, one of the country’s largest companies.

Trump announced his intentions to impose tariffs on Mexico on May 30, the same day López Obrador announced his government was beginning the process of ratifying the new North American trade agreement that had been demanded by Trump.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and the biggest concerns about ratification had come from congressional Democrats in the U.S. who have questioned how Mexico would enforce labor reforms that strengthen unions.

But now Trump’s Republican allies also warn that tariffs on Mexican imports would jeopardize the deal.

May depend on Trump’s mood

Jorge Guajardo, senior director of the McLarty Associates consulting firm, said Mexico’s swift response signals that it takes the situation seriously, but the mission’s success will depend mostly on Trump’s mood.

“There is nothing Mexico or other country can do,” said Guajardo, who previously was Mexican ambassador to China.

Ebrard, meanwhile, has spent an unusually extended time in Washington, having arrived over the weekend, meeting with U.S. Cabinet officials and holding news conferences to warn that tariffs would hurt both countries.

“So, what are we doing? Diplomacy. What is Mexico a specialist in? Diplomacy with the United States. Two hundred years,” Ebrard said with a wide smile.

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