Mexico seeks to neutralize Trump's tariff threat

Mexico seeks to neutralize Trump's tariff threat
Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard arrives for a news conference at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, as part of a Mexican delegation in Washington for talks following trade tariff threats from the Trump Administration. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mexico is going all out this week on the lobbying front.

Top officials from the government, private sector and members of the country’s Congress make up the largest Mexican delegation dispatched to Washington since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December.

The multifaceted effort —which started just hours after President Donald Trump last week announced his intentions to impose a 5% tariff on Mexico— aims to get a compromise that avoids such a duty before a Monday deadline.

The first critical moment comes Wednesday, when Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard meets Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And a U.S. administration official told The Associated Press that Vice President Mike Pence will be chairing the meeting at the White House.

Trump himself is out of town on a state visit to Britain, though he’s fired Twitter shots from across the sea to repeat his vow to impose tariffs unless Mexico takes tougher action to halt migration across its territory to the United States.

“As a sign of good faith, Mexico should immediately stop the flow of people and drugs through their country and to our Southern Border. They can do it if they want!” he tweeted on June 3

A Mexican official familiar with the bilateral relationship said the lobbying effort includes meetings with members of Congress, think tanks, businessmen, members of Congress, current and former U.S. governors.

“The goal is to gain time and try to deactivate the threat,” said the official, who requested anonymity for lack of authorization to speak publicly. The official said Mexico was in a “Catch 22” situation because while it has stepped up immigration enforcement, it cannot brag publicly about it because of domestic political tensions.

“There is a fine line between what we can say and what we cannot,” the official added. “The U.S. knows where we are and keeps pushing. We are between a rock and a hard place.”

The issue has allied Mexico’s government with influential sectors in the U.S. who say that the tariffs would damage both nations, whose economies are intertwined. Most of Mexico’s exports go to the U.S., and Mexico is the United States’ top trading partner.

Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, visited the Mexican Embassy on Tuesday and was expected to meet top Mexican businessmen this week. The chamber said recently it was considering legal action to block the tariffs from going into effect.

“These tariffs will be paid by American families and businesses without doing a thing to solve the very real problems at the border,” said Neil Bradley, the chamber’s executive vice president.

The Mexican mission also includes Sen. Hector Vasconcelos and Congressman Mario Delgado, and the president of one of Mexico’s top business associations, Carlos Salazar Lomelín, former head of Coca Cola FEMSA, one of the country’s largest companies.

Trump announced his intentions to impose tariffs on Mexico on May 30, the same day López Obrador announced his government was beginning the process of ratifying the new North American trade agreement that had been demanded by Trump.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and the biggest concerns about ratification had come from congressional Democrats in the U.S. who have questioned how Mexico would enforce labor reforms that strengthen unions.

But now Trump’s Republican allies also warn that tariffs on Mexican imports would jeopardize the deal.

Jorge Guajardo, senior director of the McLarty Associates consulting firm, said that Mexico’s swift response signals that it takes the situation seriously, but the mission success relies mostly on Trump’s mood.

“There is nothing Mexico or other country can do,” said Guajardo, who previously was Mexican ambassador to China.

Ebrard, meanwhile, has spent an unusually extended time in Washington after arriving over the weekend, meeting with U.S. Cabinet officials and holding news conferences to warn that tariffs would hurt both countries.

“So, what are we doing? Diplomacy. What is Mexico a specialist in? Diplomacy with the United States. Two hundred years,” Ebrard said with a wide smile.

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Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo