The United States and Mexico reached a last-minute deal June 7 that prevented the imposition of new tariffs threatened by the Trump administration.
The president’s mercurial approach to North American trade relations has left farmers in the Pacific Northwest understandably, and unnecessarily, on edge.
Just a few weeks ago the administration canceled tariffs on Mexican and Canadian aluminum and steel, which signaled that retaliatory tariffs placed on U.S. farm goods by those countries would come off.
Not so fast. Late last month Trump said he was going to place a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods if the government there didn’t do something to stem the tide of illegal immigrants moving through Mexico from Central America and into the United States.
Migrants fleeing oppressive governments and unimaginable economic hardship in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are streaming across Mexico’s southern border and proceeding — often en masse — north to the United States. Once across the U.S. border they claim refugee status. More than 100,000 came in May alone.
International convention requires a would be refugee to stop and take asylum in the first safe country they enter. (Indeed, those entering the U.S. but whose final desired destination is Canada will be turned back by Canadian border guards to make their plea from U.S. soil.)
The administration says the first safe country is Mexico and that migrants wishing to enter the United States as a refugee should make their application and await its adjudication in Mexico.
The horde of migrants has overwhelmed Mexico’s asylum. Officials there are no doubt reluctant to take on the responsibility of caring for so many hoping to eventually gain refugee status in the U.S.
Whether the threat of tariffs prompted the Mexican government to act, or, as some say, it was merely following through on previously negotiated measures is unclear. The timing seems to support Trump’s view that the tariff threat prompted the action, but we could also assume that Mexican bureaucracy is no different than U.S. bureaucracy and it took several months to swing into planned action.
Either way, action has been taken to interrupt the flow of illegal immigrants from Central America and new tariffs that would have caused havoc to the Mexican economy and American farmers have been averted.
Whether this was all part of a well-crafted strategic plan or an ad hoc play, we do not know. In either case we hope the intended outcome is a stable, predictable trade relationship with Mexico and our other partners.
With this latest crisis averted, it’s time for Congress to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement and the administration to focus on formalizing deals with China, Japan and Europe.
Farmers in the Pacific Northwest are waiting for the deals that were promised and the stability they would bring to agriculture.