President Donald Trump announced planned tariffs on Mexican goods will not go into effect as scheduled after his administration and Mexican officials reached an agreement on immigration policy Friday. However, officials from both countries told the New York Times the concessions made by Mexico were not actually new, and had actually been agreed to by the neighbors in March.
I am pleased to inform you that The United States of America has reached a signed agreement with Mexico. The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended. Mexico, in turn, has agreed to take strong measures to….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2019
The tariffs — which would have been put in place on Monday — consisted of a 5 percent tax on all imported Mexican goods, and would have risen at regular intervals to 25 percent. Trump announced the tariffs hoping to force Mexico to reduce the number of Central American asylum seekers and immigrants arriving at the US southern border. The tariffs would have been devastating for the Mexican economy, and as Vox’s Dylan Scott reported, could have cost the average American family $900 per year.
Last week, Mexican officials, including Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, met with Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump administration to negotiate a deal to avoid the mutually harmful tariffs. Those talks led to an agreement, with both sides offering concessions to the other.
Mexico agreed to station up to 6,000 of its National Guard troops around the country to assist with current immigration control efforts; the majority of the troops will be deployed at the border the country shares with Guatemala, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In exchange, the US has agreed to speed up processing of asylum claims (immigration advocacy group the National Immigration Forum estimates the process currently takes between 6 months and several years). The US will also expand its “Migration Protection Protocols,” a policy under which asylum seekers are sent back to Mexico while they wait for US officials to process their asylum claims.
As Vox’s Dara Lind reported, under the policy, asylum seekers must generally wait 45 days in Mexico before being allowed to present their case in US immigration court. This policy was challenged in US court; after being overturned initially, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the policy is to be allowed. It is currently in practice, although following the appeals court ruling, House Democrats crafted legislation that would block the policy. The bill has little chance of becoming law, as it would likely be ignored in the Senate and almost certainly would not be signed by the president.
Migrants waiting have said they have experienced hardship while on the Mexican side of the border; a man waiting in Tijuana told Vox in February that his friend had been robbed and harassed by police after being returned to Mexico. Border cities have also struggled to support the growing population of waiting asylum seekers.
In a statement, the US State Department said Mexico will address these issues by ensuring waiting asylum seekers are given “jobs, health care and education according to its principles.” In addition, the US has promised to fast track distribution of $5.8 billion in funds it has set aside for addressing the problems that cause migrants to leave home to seek asylum in the first place.
The tariffs faced backlash, and could impact other trade negotiations
While Trump claimed that the tariffs would benefit Americans economically, Vox’s Dylan Scott reported it’s quite the opposite:
The auto industry is by far the most significant casualty; America’s biggest imports from Mexico are cars and auto parts. But data processors, telephones, televisions, and even beer are also moving all the time across the border. Whether it’s a car or a Corona, Americans are going to wind up paying the price for Trump’s trade war.
Americans would have paid more for major Mexican imports — everything from crude oil to produce like dates, figs, and pineapples; economists told Scott the tariffs would force the average American family to spend an additional $900 per year.
When he announced the tariffs in late May, Trump said they would encourage companies who have left the US for Mexico to return. But economists told Vox the tariffs would have actually sent those companies packing to another country instead of to the US, and that they could have sped up manufacturers’ pivot to automation.
“I don’t think the United States is a viable location for many of the production activities that are occurring in Mexico,” Kimberly Clausing, an economist at Reed College, told Scott. “A more likely response would be offshoring to another country, or turning to automation to do those activities in a less labor-intensive way in the United States.”
That is one of the reasons Congressional Republicans came out against Trump’s tariff proposal — they said it would hurt the US economy and their constituents.
“There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that’s for sure,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday. “Most of us hope that this Mexican delegation that’s come up here and discussed the challenges at the border … will be fruitful, and that these tariffs will not kick in.”
Critics of the tariffs were also concerned they could impact the ratification of one of Trump’s signature goals — an overhaul of NAFTA that the president calls the United Stated-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
Trump negotiated the agreement with Canadian and Mexican leaders, and it makes changes to current country of origin rules, expands intellectual property protections, and opens new markets to US farmers.
Congress has yet to sign off on the plan, and the new tariffs could have made it a tough sell in Mexico for Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“Among the indirect costs are likely to be a rejection (possibly by three legislatures) of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” Dan Ikenson, who leads trade studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, told Scott, “and the loss of all credibility that the United States is a reliable negotiator and trading partner.”
The plan has yet to be finalized, and it’s unclear whether the agreement will scuttle the deal. Trump, however, suggested that the US’ relationship with its southern neighbor is now back on track, tweeting praise for Obrador, writing that Mexico has now agreed to buy more produce, and claiming “Everyone very excited about the new deal with Mexico!”