WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Wednesday a U.S. plan to impose tariffs on Mexican goods may not have to take effect, offering a glimmer of hope for Mexico and American businesses concerned that the levies could badly hit both consumers and companies.
Navarro told CNN that the tariffs, due to come into force next week, might not be needed because the United States now has “the Mexicans’ attention” on stemming illegal immigration.
Frustrated by the lack of progress on a signature issue from his 2016 election campaign, President Donald Trump unexpectedly told Mexico last week to take a harder line on illegal immigration or face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States, rising to as much as 25% later in the year.
Mexican officials will seek to persuade the White House in talks hosted by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday that their government has done enough to stem immigration and avoid looming tariffs.
“We believe that these tariffs may not have to go into effect precisely because we have the Mexicans’ attention,” Navarro said.
U.S. authorities at the southern border with Mexico have faced in recent years an increase in mostly Central American families and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum to escape criminal violence in their home countries.
Trump, who was in Britain to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the World War Two D-Day invasion on Wednesday, said in London on Tuesday it was “likely” that the first wave of tariffs, set for next week, would go ahead.
He has faced significant resistance within his own Republican Party over the threatened tariffs, with many lawmakers concerned about the potential impact on cross-border trade and on U.S. businesses and consumers.
Some Republicans have told the White House not to count on the same level of support within the party that it received earlier this year when Trump declared a national emergency to divert funds to build barriers at the border. Democrats opposed that move.
“We’re not real fond of tariffs, so don’t assume you can have the exact same level of support. That was my basic message,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson told reporters after a meeting between lawmakers and White House officials on Tuesday.
The tariff threat has also raised questions over the future of a three-way deal with Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. Pence is the Trump administration’s point person for getting Congress to approve the new agreement, known as USMCA, which he has pledged will happen this year.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard will attend the talks on tariffs and immigration, set to take place in Washington at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Wednesday. Ebrard has said the threatened tariffs would be devastating to Mexico’s economy and would not stop the waves of migrants from crossing the U.S. border.
The Mexican delegation is expected to try to show the White House that authorities are taking steps to stem the flow of migrants, with Mexico detaining double the number each day than it was a year ago.
But leftist Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he wants to persuade Washington to help tackle the causes of migration by investing in Central America to create jobs and speed up economic development.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Susan Cornwell in Washington, Steve Holland in London, and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Writing by Rosalba O’Brien and Alistair Bell; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Bernadette Baum