Mexican president says US tomato tariffs will fuel migration

Mexico City (AFP) –


President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Wednesday the United States' "unjust" decision to impose tariffs on Mexican tomatoes will fuel migration by hurting an industry responsible for 1.4 million jobs in Mexico.

The anti-establishment leftist attacked the 17.5-percent tariffs imposed Tuesday as "the opposite of an intelligent policy."

"If (the United States) is really worried about the migration phenomenon, well, these measures go against efforts to reduce" it, Lopez Obrador told a press conference.

"This just fuels (migration). It's the opposite of an intelligent policy to reduce the migration phenomenon. Closing borders to (Mexican) producers is a contradiction if you're trying to resolve the migration issue."

Washington imposed the tariffs after the two neighbors failed to renew an agreement that suspended a US anti-dumping investigation first opened 23 years ago.

Mexico, which supplies half the fresh tomatoes consumed in the United States, denies dumping, and estimates the tariffs will cost its exporters more than $350 million a year.

Lopez Obrador said the tariffs were about US domestic politics.

"There are elections coming up in the United States (in November 2020). And there are tomato producers in particular regions," he said, apparently referring to swing states such as Florida and Ohio.

"The circumstances are totally unjust."

Mexico exported around $2 billion of tomatoes to the United States last year -- its third-largest agricultural export to the US, after beer and avocados.

Trade tension is rising again between the two countries as their legislatures prepare to open debate on ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), an updated version of the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

President Donald Trump, who regularly criticized NAFTA, faces a battle with opposition Democrats in Congress, who have criticized the new agreement for not doing enough to protect US jobs by improving labor conditions and wages in Mexico.

Mexico, which sends more than 80 percent of its exports to the United States, is meanwhile unhappy with Trump's tariffs on its steel and aluminum exports, and his threat to impose tariffs on its auto exports over what he calls a "crisis" of illegal immigrants and drugs crossing the border.