Mexico leader hints at migration concessions amid US trade spat

2019-06-02 11:42
Newly-elected Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (C). (Alfredo Estrella/AFP)

Newly-elected Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (C). (Alfredo Estrella/AFP)

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Mexico's president has hinted his country could tighten migration controls to defuse US President Donald Trump's threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Saturday that he was expecting "good results" from talks planned in Washington next week.

He said Mexico could be ready to step up measures to contain a recent surge in migration in order to reach a deal with the United States.

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"The main thing is to inform about what we're already doing on the migration issue, and if it's necessary to reinforce these measures without violating human rights, we could be prepared to reach that deal," Lopez Obrador said.

His comments follow those of Jesus Seade, deputy foreign minister for North America, who told Reuters news agency on Friday that Mexico wanted to sharpen existing measures to curb the flow of Central Americans trying to reach the US soil.

Lopez Obrador was asked in the news conference whether he would allow Mexico to become a so-called safe third country, which would allow US authorities to send migrants back to Mexico and make them apply for asylum there.

He did not answer the question, but pressure has grown steadily on his government to give ground on the issue.

Following an agreement with Lopez Obrador, US authorities have since January begun sending migrants back to Mexico to wait there while their US asylum claims are processed.

The number of ports of entry for returnees under the so-called "Remain in Mexico" policy has gradually increased, and policy experts say it could be expanded to more cities.

Al Jazeera's Rosalind Jordan, reporting from Washington, said: "It's unusual and perhaps illegal for a government to impose tariffs for non-economic or trade-related reasons."

She also said a number of organisations, including the US Chamber of Commerce, which represents most US businesses in the country, was considering to sue the US government to prevent the tariffs from taking effect.

"Their argument is that this is not only to hurt US businesses, but it is creating a hostile environment for these businesses to operate within. They want to try to curtail the Trump administration's efforts to use tariffs to deal with all sorts of policy issues, not just the economic ones," Jordan said.

Tariff threat

Trump said on Thursday that he would apply the tariffs on June 10 if Mexico did not halt the flow of undocumented migration, largely from Central America, across the US-Mexican border.

His ultimatum hit Mexican financial assets and global stocks, but met resistance from US business leaders and legislators worried about the impact of targeting Mexico, one of the top trade partners of the US.

Trump's threat to inflict pain on Mexico's economy is the biggest foreign policy test to date for Lopez Obrador and a tall order for Mexican authorities struggling not only to contain migration but also to fight record gang violence.

Mexico's economy relies heavily on exports to the US and shrank in the first quarter. Under Trump's plan, US tariffs could rise as high as 25 percent this year.

Lopez Obrador said Mexico would not pursue trade wars with the US, but noted that his government had a "plan" in case Trump did apply the tariffs to ensure the country was not impoverished. He did not provide details of the plan.

"We're doing all we can to reach a deal through dialogue," the veteran leftist said. "We're not going to get into a trade war, a war of tariffs and of taxes."

He nevertheless noted that Mexico reserved the right to seek international legal arbitration to resolve the dispute.

Tit-for-tat

Meanwhile, some Mexican business groups have urged the government to strike back against any Trump tariffs.

On Friday, Mexico's top farm lobby said Lopez Obrador should target agricultural goods from states that support Trump's Republican Party if the US leader carries out his threat to punish Mexico for the migrants heading north.

Apprehensions at the US border with Mexico have surged in recent months, though Mexican data also show more deportations and detentions at Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, mostly of Central Americans trying to reach the US irregularly.

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Those statistics are likely to figure in the Mexican government's argument that it is addressing the problem.

The bulk of migrants are fleeing widespread violence and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Many seek asylum in the US when they cross the border.

Trump is pushing Congress to change US law to make it more difficult for the migrants to claim asylum.

Read more on:    united states  |  mexico  |  migrant crisis
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