Mexico seeks diplomatic solution to avoid Trump tariffs

Mexico's top diplomats are knocking on doors in Washington this week, looking for a compromise to avoid the 5 percent tariffs that President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE has vowed to impose on their exports beginning next week.

Trump said he would impose the tariffs and that they would escalate over time unless Mexico took unspecified steps to curb the immigration crisis at the border.

Mexico Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard told reporters in Washington on Monday that the tariffs would be counterproductive in combating mass migration from Central America, and that the economic fallout could further weaken Mexico's ability to control migration in the region.

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“What is Mexico's proposal? To work with the United States as we have, and the rest of the international community,” said Ebrard. “Particularly with the countries involved in transit as countries of origin in migratory flows, with the final objective of reducing forced migration.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sent Ebrard, Economy Secretary Graciela Márquez Colín, Agriculture Secretary Víctor Villalobos Arámbula, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for North America Jesús Seade Kuri and chief adviser Lázaro Cárdenas Batel to join Ambassador Martha Bárcena Coqui in Washington.

The delegation does not include top-level immigration or law enforcement officials.

The tariffs imposed by Trump are slated to bump up 5 percent each month to a maximum of 25 percent in October, unless Mexico can convince the White House it is doing enough to stop Central American migrants from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border.

Members of Mexico's delegation are scheduled to meet various administration officials throughout the week. Ebrard will visit Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump greeted with cheers at 120th Army-Navy game Judge orders State Dept. to search for and provide more Ukraine docs Pompeo launches personal Twitter account amid speculation over Senate run MORE on Wednesday.

Trump administration officials have been vague in setting goal posts, and Trump dismissed the Mexican delegation.

“Mexico is sending a big delegation to talk about the Border. Problem is, they’ve been 'talking' for 25 years. We want action, not talk. They could solve the Border Crisis in one day if they so desired,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

“[Mexico's] strategy has to be to get the U.S. to publicly set some goalposts, set some metrics,” said Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“If there’s not a clear definition for what that is, it’s very easy for the Trump administration to say Mexico isn’t cooperating,” he added.

In a call explaining the tariffs Friday, White House acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' MORE told reporters any progress made by Mexico would be measured on an “ad hoc basis.”

Mulvaney, speaking to “Fox News Sunday,” said he “fully expects” the first tariffs to be enacted on June 10. He said one of the administration's demands is for Mexico to enter a safe third country agreement, an issue that Mexico has repeatedly said is a red line.

A safe country agreement would require citizens of third countries seeking refugee status in the United States or Mexico to do so in the first country in which they land. Such an agreement would force prospective refugees traveling north through Mexico to apply for status there and forfeit their claim in the United States.

“We've said now for some time that a safe third country agreement would not be acceptable for Mexico,” said Ebrard. “They haven't suggested it to me, but it wouldn't be acceptable and they know it.”

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a Sunday interview on CNN said the administration would like to see better enforcement at the Mexico-Guatemala border, a crackdown on bus companies that transport migrants north through Mexico and an increase in asylum numbers in Mexico.

Under McAleenan’s requests, Mexico would have more wiggle room, according to Wilson.

“Both sides have a lot of work to do. Mexico can certainly do more in terms of strengthening its asylum system,” said Wilson, adding that Mexico's southern border “is not professionally managed.”

“The United States is correct that Mexico can do more,” said Wilson. “Nonetheless the numbers aren’t going to decline overnight.”

Both sides are wary of tit-for-tat retributions with tariffs.

Márquez, Mexico's commerce and investment chief, warned against tariffs that could further affect international value chains, where companies produce components all over the continent for later assembly.

But Márquez didn't discard the possibility of targeting specific U.S. products with retaliatory sanctions designed to hurt American producers in key districts, while staving off inflationary pressure that could hurt Mexican consumers, a strategy Mexico has used successfully in the past.

Ebrard said the delegation's first step will be to meet with their American counterparts to hear their proposals directly and “not guide ourselves only by [what we read] in the media.”

“So what are we doing? Diplomacy. In what does Mexico specialize? Diplomacy with the United States — 200 years,” said Ebrard.