The U.S. and Mexico struck a deal on Friday to avert a tariff war, with Mexico agreeing to rapidly expand a controversial asylum programme and deploy security forces to stem the flow of illegal Central American migrants.
President Donald Trump had threatened to impose 5% import tariffs on all Mexican goods starting on Monday if Mexico did not commit to do more to tighten its borders. In a joint declaration after talks in Washington, both countries said Mexico agreed to expand along the entire border a programme that sends migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to Mexico while they await adjudication of their cases.
Mr. Trump said Mexico had agreed to take strong measures to ”reduce, or eliminate” illegal immigration from Mexico. However, the deal fell short of a key U.S. demand that Mexico accept a “safe third country” designation that would have forced it to permanently take in most Central American asylum seekers.
“The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended,” Mr. Trump said in a tweet on Friday evening.
Frustrated by a recent surge of migrants that has overwhelmed U.S. resources on its southern border, Mr. Trump had used the threat of tariffs to pressure Mexico into making concessions.
But business groups and even some close Republican allies were unhappy with the prospect of tariffs on the top U.S. trade partner, saying they would damage the economy. Duties on Mexico would also have left the U.S. fighting trade wars with two of its three largest trading partners.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said in Washington that his team had also resisted U.S. requests to send deported Guatemalans to Mexico. He said he was satisfied with the deal. “I think it’s a fair balance because they had more drastic measures and proposals at the start and we reached some middle point,” he said. He also highlighted U.S. support in the agreement for a proposal to jointly address underlying causes of migration from Central America.
The asylum programme to be expanded is commonly known as Remain in Mexico, and currently operates in the border cities of Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juarez.
Under the new deal, returned asylum seekers will spend long periods in Mexican cities on the Texas border. Under the deal, Mexico will also increase its efforts to stop illegal migrants from Central America travelling through Mexico to the U.S.