WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said there was “progress” but no breakthrough Wednesday in high-stakes negotiations with Mexican officials over his threat to slap tariffs on Mexico unless that government stems the flow of migrants to the U.S. border.
“Progress is being made, but not nearly enough!” Trump tweeted from Ireland after the meeting.
“Further talks with Mexico will resume tomorrow with the understanding that, if no agreement is reached, Tariffs at the 5% level will begin on Monday, with monthly increases as per schedule,” Trump also wrote.
Wednesday’s negotiations – led by Vice President Mike Pence and Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard – lasted about 90 minutes and ended with both sides promising to keep working toward a deal.
“The meeting was respectful,” Ebrard told reporters after the session broke up on Wednesday evening. “I believe it’s important to be optimistic, especially in tough negotiations.”
The talks come as Trump faces growing domestic blowback over his tariff threat. The president has said he would impose a 5% tariffs on all Mexican imports, starting on June 10, unless the Mexican government stops the flow of Central American migrants coming to the U.S. southern border. He has vowed to hike the tariffs 5% per month, until they reached 25%.
Ebrard said that during Wednesday’s talks, Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed the Mexican delegation to crack down on migration “in the short term, immediately.” But he told them that Mexico had to consider other factors, including the need to take steps that are “not just punitive.”
“It’s not easy,” Ebrard said. “The current situation can’t remain as it is.”
The Mexican foreign secretary also said the discussion focused exclusively on the migration crisis, and not on the tariffs, even though the levies would hurt both the American and Mexican economies.
“I don’t know how long it will take” to resolve the standoff, Ebrard said. “We’re going to try to make the positions closer tomorrow.”
He declined to answer a question about whether Trump understands how tariffs work – or if Pence and Pompeo agree with Trump’s position on the levies, which runs counter to the GOP’s free-trade orthodoxy.
“I’m not the appropriate authority” to judge whether Trump grasps tariffs, he said.
Ebrard and other Mexican officials note that Mexico has already enacted strong measures to curb migration, by cracking down on human smuggling and returning more than 80,000 migrants crossing through Mexico to their home countries.
“Without Mexico’s efforts, an additional quarter-million migrants could arrive at the U.S. border in 2019,” Martha Barcena, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., told reporters at a news conference earlier this week. Slapping tariffs on Mexico, along with the Trump administration’s decision to halt aid to Central American countries, is “counterproductive,” she said, and will not reduce migration flows.
Top Republicans in Congress have warned the Trump administration against imposing the new tariffs, saying the president risks an embarrassing congressional reversal if he goes through with the plan.
“Republicans don’t like taxes on American consumers, which is what tariffs are,” Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told reporters on Tuesday.
“I think the president and the administration ought to be concerned about another vote of disapproval,” said Johnson, R-Wis., referring to a legislative tool lawmakers could use to overturn Trump’s justification for the tariffs.
Although Congress could block Trump’s move, it’s unclear if they have the votes to override a presidential veto.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted that the White House has not sent Congress any official notification explaining the tariffs and Trump’s legal justification for imposing them. But she said he appears to be using a law that allows the U.S. to sanction American enemies, not to slap tariffs on allies.
“I think that this is dangerous territory,” Pelosi said at a news conference on Wednesday. “This is not a way to treat a friend. It’s not a way to deal with immigration. It’s not a way to meet the humanitarian needs at the border.”
She said it may also jeopardize the new trade agreement Trump reached with Mexico and Canada.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, essentially accused Trump of bluffing and said he didn’t think Trump would follow through on the tariffs.
Indeed, a top White House adviser suggested that Trump may back down because the Mexican government has shown a willingness to negotiate.
“We believe that these tariffs may not have to go into effect precisely because we have the Mexicans’ attention,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNN.
Contributing: Maureen Groppe
‘A giant game of chicken’: GOP lawmakers warn against Trump’s threatened tariffs on Mexico
Trump’s tariff threat: Mexico has tried to keep Trump happy and stop migrants. It hasn’t worked