Last week’s negotiations held in Washington between Mexico and the United States were successful in suspending indefinitely president Donald Trump’s threat to impose an immediate 5% tax on all Mexican imports. These were set to go into force June 10 and escalate to 25% over time. In a series of tweets, the White House claimed a major triumph over its neighbor, arguing that trade threats served to finally force the Mexican government to dramatically curb the wave of predominantly Central American migrants- this May marked the highest number of detentions in over a decade- flooding the southern border.
The Mexican delegation, headed by the Secretary of Foreign Relations, Marcelo Ebrard, promised to implement a variety of measures to stem the flow of immigrants in search of asylum in the United States, within the 45 day deadline set by their US counterpart. These include, sending 6,000 troops of the newly created National Guard to states bordering Guatemala, expanding Homeland Security’s Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) to allow illegal aliens to await their asylum hearings in Mexico, and dismantling the transnational gangs that profit from the illegal flow of migrants.
Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), held a rally in the border city of Tijuana to applaud the outcome of the negotiations and assure his electoral base that all conditions set by the U.S. would be met. Although AMLO won the presidential election by a landslide this past July and his political party, Morena, holds a majority in Congress, he is facing a serious political pressure for having conceded too much on a migration issue with a threat to impose economic penalties. The Speaker of the House of Deputies, Porfirio Munoz Ledo, publically denounced the agreement on the grounds that they violate Mexican national sovereignty. In addition, he stated that the absence of the Minister of the Interior, constitutionally responsible for immigration issues, from the Mexican delegation at the negotiating table undermines the terms of the agreement.
The Mexican president ran his campaign on the premise that in his government domestic issues would inform foreign policy. That is, the traditional principles of foreign policy, as stated in the constitution, would be upheld unconditionally, especially the concept of non-intervention. This became evident when the Mexican government maintained a neutral stance- one the of the few countries in the region to do so- on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
AMLO’s accommodating and somewhat desperate reaction to the threat of tariffs threatened by Trump, has many of his supporters questioning why he succumbed so quickly to demands and pressure from the United States. The catastrophic economic consequences of the U.S. imposing tariffs on all Mexican imports are undeniable. Clearly, however, businesses on both sides of the border would have suffered greatly from a vast disruption of value and production changes in North America. Many in Mexico had concluded that President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs to obtain concessions on migration was unlikely to be implemented because a growing number of Republican Senators appeared prepared to successfully override a presidential veto of legislation barring the President from imposing the tariffs. It remains to be seen how the political and private sector’s disenchantment with the Mexican president’s negotiations will unfold. AMLO’s government is now in the uncomfortable position of having to provide credible results in blocking migrants seeking asylum in the United States in a mere 45 days, or risk another round of tariff threats, while simultaneously risking a loss of political support at home, which could also jeopardize the ratification by the Mexican Senate of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).