VOA’s Michael Bowman contributed to this story.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is “more likely” than not to impose a new 5% tariff on imported products from Mexico next week.
Trump offered his assessment at a London news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
He made his comments even as U.S. and Mexican officials were in Washington talking about tariffs and the surge of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico to reach the United States.
“Mexico should step up and stop this invasion into our country,” Trump said, contending that “millions and millions” of undocumented migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are entering the U.S. to escape poverty and violence in their homelands.
“I think Mexico will step up and do what they need to,” Trump said. “I want to see security at our border and great trade. We are going to see if we can do something, but I think it’s more likely the tariffs go on, and we will probably be talking during the time that the tariffs are on.”
Trump has threatened to increase the tariffs monthly in 5% increments if the migration is not curbed.
Some Republican lawmakers, normally political allies of Trump, are wondering whether to try to pass legislation to block his imposition of the tariff. They fear the extra taxation would be passed on to U.S. consumers in the form of higher retail prices on an array of goods, including automobiles and farm produce.
But Trump said, “I think if they do that, it’s foolish,” citing his high political standing among Republican voters, even as surveys in the U.S. show that overall, American voters disapprove of his performance as president.
Bob Carter, Toyota’s head of sales for North America, said in a letter sent to news agencies that the new tariffs on Mexico could cost the U.S. car industry billions.
Sixty-five percent of the popular Tacoma pickup truck that Toyota plans to sell in the United States is imported from a Mexican plant.
Talks between the U.S. and Mexico started Monday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Wednesday at the White House.
Ebrard says he believes a deal can be reached to avoid tariffs, but if not, Mexico plans to announce its response Thursday. It is unclear exactly what the Trump administration considers sufficient migration control to cancel the tariffs.
Mexican officials say they could only go so far in meeting Trump’s demand to block migrants’ passage through Mexico. The officials specifically ruled out a “third safe country” agreement requiring U.S. asylum-seekers to first apply for refuge in Mexico.
“There is a clear limit to what we can negotiate, and the limit is Mexican dignity,”said Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena.
U.S. lawmakers sharply criticized Trump’s latest tariff tactic aimed at a major U.S. trading partner.
“This [tariffs] is not a popular concept,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, adding that his state is Mexico’s biggest export market.
Another Republican, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, expressed concerns that trade friction could harm a newly negotiated free trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“I’m not a big advocate of tariffs, and I’d like to get the USMCA agreement approved. I don’t see how the addition of a tariff [on Mexican goods] right now helps make that happen,” Blunt told VOA.
“Mexico is a critical trading partner of the United States,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said. “You put up barriers, it’s going to end up costing us jobs, and it’s going to cost consumers.”
Cardin added that Trump’s threatened tariff “would be counterproductive,” as far as boosting U.S. border security.
“If we need cooperation on the southern border, they [Mexican officials] are not going to give us cooperation. Why bother if we’re going to have an antagonistic relationship?” Cardin said.