Mexico warns US as Trump says border wall ‘way ahead of schedule’

Carlos BARRIA / POOL / AFP | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) listens to Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray during a joint press conference at the Foreign Ministry building in Mexico City on February 23, 2017
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An emboldened Mexico hardened its opposition to President Donald Trump on Friday by saying it would retaliate if the United States imposed a border tax and that it can afford to lose financial aid that might be pulled to pay for a border wall.


This came as US Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for Trump’s "great wall" along the 2,000-mile border. The president said Friday that construction will start "very soon" and is "way, way, way ahead of schedule".

It's unclear how soon Congress would provide funding and how much. Republican leaders in Congress have said Trump's wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Trump has suggested $12 billion.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray hit back stating that Mexico could respond to any tax the United States were to unilaterally impose on imports from its southern neighbour to finance the wall with levies on select goods, aimed at US regions most dependent on exports south of the border.

"Without a doubt, we have that possibility, and what we cannot do is remain with our arms crossed," Videgaray said in a radio interview. "The Mexican government would have to respond."

Loss of US security aid?

The statements by Videgaray and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, who minimised the potential impact of the rumored loss of US security aid, toughened the defiant tone from Mexico since President Enrique Pena Nieto last month cancelled a trip to meet Trump over the wall dispute.

Mexicans are angry at Trump's calls for US firms not to invest south of the border, insults to immigrants and threats to make Mexico finance the border wall. The peso currency has weakened on concerns he will hurt Latin America's No. 2 economy.

Pena Nieto had faced criticism that he was too accommodating with Trump, but got a much needed ratings boost after cancelling the summit. A plan to deport third-country nationals to Mexico fuelled further outrage this week.

Mexican officials were publicly blunt with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security John Kelly over Trump's immigration and trade proposals in a visit to Mexico on Thursday.

Videgaray said the trade strategy would replicate a 2009 campaign of retaliatory tariffs that helped Mexico win a dispute with the United States. On Wednesday, the minister mentioned Iowa, Texas and Wisconsin as states that could be targeted in a conversation with lawmakers leaked to two newspapers.

"This is not our preference," he said. "Mexico believes in free trade."

No handouts please

A US executive order on January 25 that mandated the construction of a border wall also required government agencies to report what financial assistance was given to Mexico over the past five years, leading to speculation Trump wants to redirect the aid to pay for its construction.

Like in other middle-income emerging economies, many in Mexico consider it humiliating to take aid from wealthy countries.

A large part of US aid to Mexico comes through the Plan Merida program, under which the US Congress allocated $2.6 billion to security assistance between 2008 and 2016.
Of that, $1.6 billion had been disbursed by November 2016, according to the US Congressional Research Service.

"When they realize what's left of Merida, they will understand that it's not even that significant," Osorio Chong told local radio.


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