Mexico acknowledged that it now has a month and a half to slash an “exodus” of Central American migrants or else face renewed demands from Washington that it offer them asylum.
A deal announced on Friday night to avert the imposition of tariffs — starting at 5 per cent on Monday, then ratcheting up to 25 per cent by October if Donald Trump’s demands to stop illegal migration were not met — was reached after three days of tense talks. But the US president hinted on Monday that Mexico may not be completely in the clear yet.
“We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the immigration and security deal with Mexico, one that the US has been asking about getting for many years,” Mr Trump tweeted early on Monday.
“It will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s legislative body! We do not anticipate a problem with the vote but, if for any reason, the approval is not forthcoming, tariffs will be reinstated!” the US president added.
Since the deal was announced, Mr Trump has been hinting that some details have yet to be made public and that Mexico will step up agricultural trade with the US.
But Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, flatly denied any hidden detail, saying on Monday that the US president’s reference to a vote in Mexico had to do with the prospect of additional measures if last week’s deal did not succeed in stemming migrant flows.
The deal says unspecified “further actions” will be taken in 90 days “in the event the measures adopted do not have the expected results”. Any resurrection of the tariff threat could be disastrous. Mexico’s government — which analysts believe is already grossly underestimating the existing slowdown — calculated that its economy would contract by 1.2 per cent this year, exports would fall by 3.7 per cent and 1.2m jobs would be lost if the 5 per cent levy were imposed.
In practice, though, Mr Ebrard acknowledged Mexico had until late July to deliver on a reduction of migrant flows to “reasonable levels”.
Washington kicked off last week’s talks armed with a barrage of new data showing a 32 per cent leap in arrivals at the US border in the last month alone. Even Mr Ebrard said “there is clearly a major crisis in Central America . . . this is an exodus”.
“When will we do an evaluation [of whether Friday’s agreement is working?] Within 45 days,” Mr Ebrard said, although he insisted, despite Mr Trump’s morning tweet, that “there is no threat of tariffs in 90 days, in 45 or in 30”.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador even went so far as to promise that the USMCA free trade deal — an update to the Nafta treaty between the US, Mexico and Canada — would be ratified in Mexico next week.
Nevertheless, if Mexico fails to reduce migrant flows to Washington’s satisfaction, Mr Ebrard said he would need to go to the Senate to say “the measures we took did not work, the Americans are proposing this . . . What can we do and what can we not do?” He said that was the legislative vote to which Mr Trump referred.
Mexico promised swift deployment of its newly created — although not yet fully operational — National Guard to its southern border and to allow migrants who apply for asylum in the US to return to Mexico to await their court hearings — a process that could take years.
In return, the US dropped its “virtual ultimatum” to make Mexico a so-called safe third country, whereby migrants would be forced to apply for asylum in Mexico instead of in the US. It also agreed to join Mexico in development efforts to ensure that people are not forced to flee the northern triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador because of poverty or crime, Mr Ebrard said.
But that threat remains. “They said, ‘If your measures don’t work, you’re going to have to discuss what I propose’,” Mr Ebrard said.
Although the US demanded migrant arrivals at the US border be reduced to “zero . . . I think that’s an impossible position”, Mr Ebrard added. No numerical target has been agreed but “if there is a reduction . . . we’ll have succeeded and that’s an enormous bargaining chip with the US”.