VOA News Center associate producer Jesusemen Oni contributed reporting from Washington.
Mexico’s president suggested Saturday that his country could clamp down on migration, and he said he thought the United States was ready to discuss its threatened use of tariffs as a means to combat illegal migration from Central America.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at a Mexico City news conference that “there is willingness on the part of U.S. government officials to establish dialogue and reach agreement and compromises.”
His comments came ahead of talks in Washington next week, and Obrador said he said he expected “good results.” He added that Mexico was willing to “reinforce” existing “measures without violating human rights.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Friday that he began negotiating with U.S. officials after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican products related to the migrant surge at the border.
Ebrard said on Twitter that he had spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by phone and said face-to-face talks between the two would take place Wednesday in Washington.
“We will be firm and defend the dignity of Mexico” at the talks, Ebrard said.
Obrador also responded Friday to the U.S. tariff threats with caution, urging “dialogue” over “coercive measures.”
“I want to reiterate that we are not going to fall into any provocation. But we are going to be prudent, and we are going to respect the authorities of the United States and President Donald Trump,” Obrador said.
That statement followed a two-page letter to Trump made public late Thursday, similar in tone, responding to Trump’s announcement on Twitter earlier in the day that the United States would begin imposing an escalating tax on imports from Mexico.
“On June 10, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP,” Trump tweeted. Until “the illegal immigration problem is remedied,” tariffs will continue to rise monthly, going as high as 25% by Oct. 1.
U.S. border agents have apprehended an increasing number of people, largely from Central America, who crossed the southern U.S. border without authorization in recent months.
In contrast to previous spikes in arrivals, recent groups have included a large number of children, prompting U.S. officials to scramble to support families and children traveling without parents — some of whom are seeking asylum.
In an indication of the pressing demands at the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection solicited bids for the purchase of tens of thousands of diapers, baby wipes and bottles this past week, according to documents reviewed by VOA on a government contracting website.
Trump’s announcement of the new tariffs came on the same day Mexico began the formal process of ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade.
Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, Jesus Seade, said such tariffs would be disastrous, expressing more alarm than the Mexican president.
“If this threat is carried out, it would be extremely serious,” he told reporters. “If this is put in place, we must respond vigorously.”
For one trade expert, who previously served as Mexico’s ambassador to China — a top trading partner for that country and the U.S. — the timing of Trump’s tariff statement raised questions about the future of the USMCA.
“By mixing two things — immigration and now, just lately, drug flow, with trade — I think it confuses the issue,” said Jorge Guajardo, a senior director at the Washington-based international trade consulting firm McLarty Associates.
The trade deal “was a triumph for all three countries, and now of course, that all comes into doubt,” Guajardo added.
Some Republican members of Congress but no Democrats were consulted about White House plan, according to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Asked in a hastily arranged conference call with reporters about benchmarks Mexico would need to achieve to have the tariffs lifted, Mulvaney said there needed to be significant and substantial reductions in arrivals from Central America crossing into the United States.
“We’re going to take this and look at it on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis,” said Mulvaney. “We are interested in seeing the Mexican government act tonight, tomorrow.”
Trump has repeatedly accused Mexico of not doing enough to stop Central American migrants from traveling through the country on their way to the United States.
The U.S. system, however, is not infallible. While the country has increased its apprehension rate at the border in recent years, U.S. border agents stop an estimated 65% to 80% of people crossing into the country without authorization, according to a 2018 DHS report.