Will Donald Trump take his winnings from his standoff with Mexico and cash out? At least so far, he doesn’t seem inclined to do so. On his way back from Europe, Trump tweeted out that there’s a “good chance” that Mexico can avoid the tariffs — but only if they “make the deal”:
Earlier, the White House had offered conflicting messages as Mexico announced moves to restrict passage from Central America at their southern border. While negotiations are progressing well, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says, those tariffs will go into effect on Monday as planned:
The United States intends to apply punitive tariffs on imports from Mexico on Monday despite progress in talks on stemming migration, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Friday.
“Our position hasn’t changed,” Sanders told reporters heading on Air Force One to Shannon, Ireland, as President Donald Trump wrapped up a week-long trip to Europe.
“They’ve made a lot of progress,” she said. “The meetings have gone well, but as of now we’re still on track for tariffs on Monday.”
Or will they? Mike Pence’s chief of staff offered a glimmer of hope that they could be rescinded before they take effect … if Mexico plays ball, that is:
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, said a “legal notification” will be posted on Friday that Trump will slap a 5 percent tariff on Mexican imports beginning on Monday, but stressed that negotiations and deliberations will continue and the paperwork could be withdrawn or shelved.
“I think there is the ability — if negotiations continue to go well — that the president can turn that off at some point over the weekend,” Short told reporters at the White House.
Short praised Mexican officials for floating new ideas about how to stem the flow of Central Americans traveling to the U.S. over the past two days of negotiations, but said there is still “a long way to go” to satisfy Trump’s demands.
To understand why the US is still pressing Mexico for concessions, read Allahpundit’s excellent analysis from yesterday afternoon. The Trump administration sees the increased security at Mexico’s southern border as a good start, but only a good start. It wants to force Mexico to adopt the “safe third country” standard that the US already has with Canada. Given the problems Mexico has with its internal security — drug lords and cartels control the majority of the heavily populated areas — the “safe” part of that designation is likely to be hotly contested anyway. However, the administration’s correct in insisting that Mexico deal with its own immigration problem rather than providing a pass-through for Central America to the US.
Mexico hinted yesterday that it might change its mind about the “safe third country” approach and integrate that policy as part of a North American alliance. However, negotiators insisted that the US has to drop its tariff threat first:
On Thursday, the Mexican official said, the Mexican government indicated it is willing to make asylum changes for the sake of a coordinated regional approach to stem the flow of Central American migrants now flooding into the United States. But Mexican negotiators also made clear that they will withdraw the offer if Trump makes good on his threat to impose tariffs, telling their U.S. counterparts that the economic damage would undermine Mexico’s ability to pay for tougher immigration enforcement.
Well, it’s not going to get cheaper if they balk and the US applies the tariffs. The question is whether it will be cheaper to enforce a “safe third country” policy than to deal with the economic damage of a trade war with the US. The answer is likely yes, and the sudden willingness to negotiate this issue after decades of refusals demonstrates the leverage that US trade policies have on Mexico. The cost is likely to get cheaper over time, too, as tougher enforcement on Mexico’s southern border will disincentivize trafficking through Mexico. Trump’s tweet this afternoon appears to be a response to this demand, which is that he’s not giving up that leverage without a commitment.
The key to an agreement that will satisfy Trump might not be trade anyway. It could be foreign aid to alleviate the pressure over the long term, an idea supported by hardline-activist Mark Krikorian:
Krikorian says the U.S. might need to offer Mexico financial assistance in exchange for an asylum agreement.
“I think we should combine carrots along with the sticks,” he said, referring to President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports if the Obrador government does not stop the flow of migrants.
Indeed, Obrador has called for the U.S. to help Mexico address the root causes of the migrant crisis – urging the Trump administration to help foot the bill for economic development and other initiatives aimed at relieving the crippling poverty and corruption in Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American countries.
“The U.S. stance is centered on immigration control measures, while our focus is on development,” Roberto Velasco, a spokesman for the Mexican Foreign Ministry, tweeted on Thursday evening. “We have not yet reached an agreement but continue to negotiate.”
That would be worth our while, too. The US had participated in such efforts in the past, but Trump suspended the aid after “caravans” of migrants began pouring out of Central America. Mexico strenuously objected to that suspension at the time, so it might be the right carrot to pair with the tariff stick. If that works, then Trump will have successfully traded a foreign aid status quo with a major and long-overdue shift in Mexican policy to stop being a conduit for human trafficking.
Trump lands in DC in a couple of hours. There won’t be any movement before then, but don’t be surprised if the tariff window shifts over the weekend. With that kind of victory close at hand, Trump will have all his attention focused on this negotiation.