Mexico: good chance of avoiding tariffs in US talks

Washington (AFP) –


Mexico's foreign minister on Tuesday predicted that negotiations to avoid punishing tariffs threatened by US President Donald Trump have an 80 percent probability of success.

Trump put the Mexican government on notice last week -- and reiterated his demands during a visit to London Tuesday -- that if it didn't substantially stem the flow of migrants to the US border all goods entering the US from Mexico would be hit with tariffs.

The tariffs would start at five percent June 10 and rise to 25 percent by October, according to Trump.

"Mexico should step up and stop this onslaught, this invasion into our country," Trump told reporters at a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

For Mexico, the stakes are huge. It exported $346 billion in goods -- from autos and auto parts to computers -- to the United States in 2018, second only to China.

Mexican officials rushed to Washington to defuse the crisis after Trump's shock announcement on Thursday.

"I think that we have 80 percent in favor of a negotiation, 20 percent maybe difficult to reach an agreement right now," Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a press conference in Washington.

"I think there is going to be a negotiation, we are going to encounter common ground," he said.

Ebrard is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a meeting that will "probably be long" but fruitful, the minister said.

He also said that Mexico's chief trade negotiator Jesus Seade will huddle on Tuesday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The two men led negotiations on the USMCA, the new North American free trade agreement set to replace NAFTA. It is currently in the process of ratification by the legislatures of the United States, Mexico and Canada.

US lawmakers, including those in Trump's Republican Party, have warned that the tariff plan could scuttle the broader USMCA.

Mexico hoped to find "a point of rapprochement" with Washington but is also prepared for a non-agreement scenario, Ebrard said Tuesday without revealing Lopez Obrador's next move should that happen.

Mexico was seeking a "dignified and effective" position in the talks, Ebrard added.

Lopez Obrador has so far taken a conciliatory stance in the face of threats from Trump, who on Monday raised the pressure by calling on Mexico to give "a sign of good faith" by halting the flow of migrants and drugs to the US border.

"They can do it if they want!" Trump tweeted.