A top White House official said Sunday that President Donald Trump is “deadly serious” about imposing tariffs on imports from Mexico.
And his threats seem to have Mexico scrambling to fix the illegal immigration crisis on the U.S. southern border.
On Monday, top officials from the two countries will start meetings in Washington. Mexican Economy Minister Graciela Marquez plans talks with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Two days later, delegations led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard will meet.
But Trump downplayed the effort. “Mexico is sending a big delegation to talk about the Border,” the president tweeted Sunday. “Problem is, they’ve been ‘talking’ for 25 years. We want action, not talk.”
Trump claims Mexico has taken advantage of the United States for decades but that the abuse will end when he slaps tariffs on Mexican imports next week in a dispute over illegal immigration.
“America has had enough,” he tweeted.
“So, there’s no specific target, there’s no specific percentage, but things have to get better,” Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said. “They have to get dramatically better and they have to get better quickly.”
He said the idea is to work with the Mexican government “to make sure that things did get better.”
The president said last week that he will impose a 5% tariff on Mexican goods on June 10 to pressure the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to block Central American illegal immigrants from crossing the border into the U.S.
Trump said the import tax will increase by 5% every month through October, topping out at 25%.
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Establishment Republicans and allies in the business community have signaled serious unease with the tariffs that they warn will raise prices for consumers and hurt the economy.
Mexican officials are due to meet later this week with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a bid to come to a resolution.
“I think what the president said, what the White House has made clear, is we need a vast reduction in the numbers crossing,” Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Mulvaney, who also appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said Mexico could take various steps to decrease the record numbers of illegal immigrants at the border.
He suggested the Mexican government could seal its southern border with Guatemala, crack down on domestic terrorist organizations and make Mexico a safe place for illegal immigrants seeking to apply for asylum.
“There are specific things that the Mexicans can do,” he said.
Mulvaney insisted that Trump’s threat is real. “He’s absolutely, deadly serious,” Mulvaney said.
Economists and business groups warn tariffs will hike the costs of many Mexican goods that Americans have come to rely on and impact trade.
But Mulvaney played down those fears, saying he doubts business will pass on the costs to shoppers. “American consumers will not pay the burden of these tariffs,” he said.
He also suggested the tariffs were an immigration issue, separate from the trade deal the United States is trying to negotiate with Mexico and Canada.
The tariff threat comes just as the administration has been pushing for passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which would update the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Several top GOP lawmakers have expressed concerns that Trump’s tariff threat could upend that deal. The chairman of the Finance Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said last week the tariffs would “seriously jeopardize” passage of that agreement, which needs approval in Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this article