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Mexican president says confident that US will negotiate on tariffs

Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he thinks US officials are prepared to negotiate on President Donald Trump’s threat to use tariffs as a tool to fight illegal migration across the border © AFP / Alfredo ESTRELLA

MEXICO, Jun 2 – Mexico’s president said Saturday he thinks US officials are prepared to negotiate on President Donald Trump’s threat to use tariffs as a tool to fight illegal migration across the border.

“There is willingness on the part of US government officials to establish dialogue and reach agreements and compromises,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a news conference.

He did not say what gave him reason to believe this, though he noted that his government had contacted both US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser.

Trump’s surprise announcement Thursday of new tariffs against a key US trading partner was widely criticized, including by US business groups, border-state politicians and some Republican lawmakers. It sent global markets slumping on Friday.

Trump appeared to have no regrets about the move, tweeting on Saturday: “When you are the ‘Piggy Bank’ Nation that foreign countries have been robbing and deceiving for years, the word TARIFF is a beautiful word indeed!”

“Others must treat the United States fairly and with respect – We are no longer the ‘fools’ of the past!” he wrote.

Lopez Obrador said a Mexican delegation led by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will meet Wednesday in Washington with Pompeo to discuss the tariffs.

– ‘Doing our job’ –

People are seen approaching a border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, on May 31, 2019, a day after US President Donald Trump threatened new tariffs against Mexico unless it stops the flow of undocumented migrants © AFP/File / Guillermo Arias

Trump said Thursday that tariffs starting at five percent and gradually increasing to 25 percent will be applied to all Mexican imports beginning June 10, unless Mexico does more to halt the flow of undocumented migrants.

“Mexico has taken advantage of the United States for decades,” Trump said in a tweet.

Lopez Obrador said Friday that his country was “doing our job” to stem the flow of undocumented migrants — many of them fleeing poverty and violence in Central America — and he warned Trump that new tariffs would be a lose-lose game.

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From January to April, Mexican authorities detained 51,607 migrants, a 17 percent increase from the same period in 2018, according to official figures.

On Saturday, Lopez Obrador voiced confidence on the upcoming talks.

“The results are going to be good because there is an atmosphere that is favorable to dialogue both in this country and in the United States,” the Mexican president said, adding that he doubted the tariffs would ultimately take effect.

“It is in everyone’s interest to reach an agreement,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants have been crossing into the US — more than 100,000 a month in recent months — causing temporary shelters to overflow and judges unable to keep up with asylum applications.

Trump, who has often demonized the migrants as criminals and gang members, has declared the situation an emergency.

Cars pass from the US into Mexico at the border crossing in San Ysidro, California on May 31, 2019; cross-border business would be hit hard by new tariffs threatened by US President Donald Trump © AFP/File / ARIANA DREHSLER

The US tariffs would be devastating for Mexico, which sends 80 percent of its exports to the US.

Analysts said Trump’s shock move jeopardized the chances for ratifying a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, known as the USMCA. His announcement came the same day Trump began the process of ratifying the new pact.

“The move is seen as a further disruption for US manufacturing supply chains, adding to consumer costs, with the uncertainty undermining business investment,” chief economist Scott Brown of Raymond James said on the investment firm’s website.

It might also undercut chances for resolving the continuing US trade conflict with China, analysts said, by raising questions about whether US negotiators can be trusted.

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In a tit-for-tat competition, the US and China have imposed billions of dollars in tariffs on goods imported from the other.

Beijing on Saturday increased tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods, retaliating for Washington having raised duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

This graphic shows top exports in US-Mexico trade in 2018, according to US Census Bureau data © AFP/File

But trade with Mexico is, in some ways, more deeply intertwined with US jobs and manufacturing.

Many products, like cars, appliances and computers, are partially produced on one side of the border and then finished on the other.


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