Mexican and US officials resume talks in Washington aimed at heading off punitive tariffs on Mexican goods from Monday, as US seeks Mexican action to curb migration at southern US border.
US and Mexican officials headed into the second day of talks on Thursday, working to avert import tariffs that President Donald Trump is threatening to impose as he tries to strong-arm Mexico into stemming the flood of Central American migrants at America’s southern border.
On Thursday, the White House officials said Mexican proposals so far to deal with the flow of immigrants from Central America are "simply not enough," making it likely punitive tariffs will take effect next week.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard was holding a second straight day of talks on Thursday in Washington in a bid to avert the tariffs but White House communications chief Mercedes Schlapp said Washington is not satisfied.
"Looks like we're moving toward the path of tariffs," Schlapp said on Fox News. "What we've seen so far, the Mexicans what they are proposing is simply not enough."
Earlier, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he hoped a deal could be struck with the United States.
Speaking at his regular morning news conference, Lopez Obrador said he was confident the two sides would reach a deal, and repeated that Mexico would act prudently in talks with senior officials from the US government.
"The US authorities have behaved very well, President Trump, because they haven't closed themselves off to dialogue and we hope that a deal is reached today," he said.
Trump threatens five percent tariff on all Mexican goods entering the US even as US and Mexico officials resume crucial talks in Washington pic.twitter.com/nlt0JiGnho— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) June 6, 2019
Tariffs at 5 percent level
Both sides claimed headway in lengthy talks on Wednesday, but Trump said a "lot of progress" must still be made to halt the five percent tax on all Mexican goods that he has threatened to impose on Monday as part of an escalating tariff regime opposed by many in his own Republican Party.
Underscoring the scope of the border problem, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday that US 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 travelling together and 11,507 children travelling alone.
Trump, who is currently travelling in Europe, tweeted from Ireland that the Washington talks would continue "with the understanding that, if no agreement is reached, Tariffs at the 5 percent level will begin on Monday, with monthly increases as per schedule."
Staff level talks with Mexican officials were resuming at the White House and State Department, though it remained unclear what kind of deal could be struck with Trump out of the country. US officials were preparing for the tariff to kick in on Monday barring major Mexican action.
"We'll see what happens," Trump told reporters in Ireland before leaving for France to attend a D-Day ceremony. "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."
Vice President Mike Pence, who led the discussions on Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other US officials, echoed Trump, saying, "We made clear to them that President Trump is going to continue to stand firm until we bring this crisis of illegal immigration on our southern border to an end."
US unmoved by concessions
And during the discussion in the Roosevelt Room, the gulf between the countries was clear as Mexico offered small concessions and the US demanded major action.
A senior administration official briefed on the talks said the US once again pressed Mexico to enter into a "safe third country agreement" that would make it difficult for those who enter Mexico from other countries to claim asylum in the US Mexico has long resisted that request.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door meeting.
Administration officials have also said Mexico can prevent the tariffs by securing its southern border with Guatemala and cracking down on criminal smuggling organisations.
But the US has not proposed any concrete metrics to assess whether Mexico is complying, and it is unclear whether even those steps would be enough to satisfy Trump on illegal immigration, a signature issue of his presidency and one that he sees as crucial to his 2020 re-election campaign.
Implications for US
Mexican Foreign Secretary Ebrard described the talks as "cordial" and told reporters at the Mexican Embassy that both sides had acknowledged "the current situation cannot keep going" because of the surge in migrant flows.
The tariffs carry enormous economic implications for both countries, and politically they underscore a major ideological split between Trump and his party.
Trump has increasingly relied on tariffs as a bludgeon to try to force other nations to bend to his will, dismissing warnings, including from fellow Republicans, about the likely impacts on American manufacturers and consumers.
Republicans in Congress have been threatening their own confrontation with Trump, warning the White House that they are ready to stand up to the president to try to block his tariffs, which they worry would spike costs to US consumers, harm the economy and imperil a major pending US-Mexico-Canada trade deal.