Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Mexican Officials Are Trying To Talk The Trump Administration Out Of A Trade War


For now the threat of a 5% tariff on all goods imported from Mexico is still looming. Talks between the U.S. and Mexico will continue tomorrow. They have ended for today without a deal. President Trump plans to impose the tariffs on Monday if Mexico does not do more to stop the flow of migrants to the U.S. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hours before Vice President Pence sat down with a visiting Mexican delegation at the White House, President Trump on an overseas trip again called on Mexico to stop the millions of migrants who he says are swamping our border.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Mexico can stop it. They have to stop it. Otherwise we just won't be able to do business. It's a very simple thing. And I think they will stop it. I think they want to do something. I think they want to make a deal.

KELEMEN: No deal has been reached yet, but Mexico's foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, has been sounding hopeful.


MARCELO EBRARD: We are optimistic because we have a good meeting with respectful position from both parts.

KELEMEN: After the White House meeting, he had follow-on talks at the State Department with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Many analysts, including Mexican professor Carlos Heredia, are far more pessimistic.

CARLOS HEREDIA: If there is any logic to the way that President Trump handles policy - is that he likes conflict. He likes to create problems and then pressure the opponent and humiliate the opponent and keep the threat lingering.

KELEMEN: Speaking at the Wilson Center on Tuesday, Heredia said he expects this uncertainty to continue through the U.S. election cycle because talking tough about Mexico plays well with Trump's base.

HEREDIA: So I don't think there is a way to please Trump.

KELEMEN: He argues that the U.S. and Mexico have to work together on migration and should be addressing the root causes, violence and poverty in Central America. The Trump administration, though, wants to see Mexico do a better job of securing its border with Guatemala to prevent Central Americans from starting that journey north. It's no easy task, says the Wilson Center's Rachel Schmidtke.

RACHEL SCHMIDTKE: In part because there are 300 informal crossings at the Mexico-Guatemala border. There was some staffing issues with the National Migration Institute of Mexico. And so there has been challenges for sure on the enforcement front.

KELEMEN: Mexico has deported tens of thousands of migrants this year. Still, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Earl Anthony Wayne, says Mexican and U.S. officials are overwhelmed by the numbers.

EARL ANTHONY WAYNE: It's also not a problem you can turn on and off in a week - period - as some of the tweets we've seen suggest. It's very deeply rooted, and it is hard to control.

KELEMEN: Wayne was speaking to the Council of the Americas today after he and six other former U.S. ambassadors to Mexico called on the administration to stop linking trade to immigration. He says a trade war will hurt everyone.

WAYNE: This $1-million-a-minute trade that we have with Mexico is going to touch a lot of people, and if we get into a big trade dispute with them, it's going to be very costly.

KELEMEN: Not just for American consumers, farmers and manufacturers, he said, but also for the U.S.-Mexico relationship, which he and the other former U.S. ambassadors said they tried to foster for the past few decades. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.