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White House trade adviser urges Mexico to curb migrants ahead of tariff hike

Peter Navarro, director of the National Trade Council, attends a session at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., on March 1, 2019.

ANDREW HARRER./BLOOMBERG

By JENNIFER JACOBS | Bloomberg | Published: June 5, 2019

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro urged Mexico to do more to rein in migration into the U.S. ahead of a meeting Wednesday with senior Mexican officials, who are trying to persuade the Trump administration to drop its plan to impose tariffs next week.

Navarro said the U.S. has a three-part "solution" calling for Mexico to keep asylum seekers in that country, though he didn't offer specific benchmarks for the country to meet.

"The most important thing is for the Mexican government to take the asylum seekers," Navarro said in an interview on Bloomberg TV in Washington. The Mexican government can also boost security along its southern border with Guatemala, as well as crack down with more checkpoints and other measures on the buses and trains that are ferrying migrants.

"We are taking a strong measure that will change the Mexican calculus" for dealing with illegal immigration, which will be "good for the markets," said Navarro. "I'm very bullish right now because what President Trump has done is to change the game."

In a separate interview with CNN, Navarro said Mexican officials still have time to prevent the U.S. tariffs from taking effect by agreeing to steps such as taking asylum seekers and increasing resources at the border.

Mexico's peso strengthened following Navarro's remarks, trading at 19.5466 per dollar at 10:13 a.m. in New York.

But Trump is making clear he has no intention of cutting a quick face-saving deal, warning on Twitter late Tuesday that he's not "bluffing" in his threat to impose 5% tariffs on all imports from Mexico starting June 10. His Mexican counterpart, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, expressed optimism on Wednesday that a meeting between officials from both sides in Washington could yield a solution.

Republican lawmakers are also pressing for a deal, with some some members of the party questioning Trump's use of the levies to force tougher border enforcement.

The tweet sets the tone for a meeting on Wednesday between Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence, which may be Mexico's best chance to offer concrete steps to curb the flow of migrants into the U.S.

Ebrard said this week that an idea favored by some U.S. officials to force Central American migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to instead do so with Mexico as a "safe third country" wouldn't be acceptable.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have signaled "very clearly" to Mexico about what needs to be done, said Navarro.

Navarro, 69, is in Trump's camp of trade hawks who find themselves with the upper hand after the president last month escalated tariffs on China for allegedly reneging on commitments in trade talks, before making the surprise Mexican-tariff proposal.

The move on Mexico was partly intended to force the hand of Congress to deal with border-security after lawmakers repeatedly failed to act, said Navarro.

It "incentives both Congress and the Mexican government to deal with this issue firmly," he said. "The president has tried every possible avenue with Congress and with the Mexican government to no avail, and this a firm step and I think it's a brilliant stroke in terms of approaching this problem."

Congress has been questioning the president's choice of emergency powers to impose the tariffs and weighing possible moves to block him, though there's little lawmakers can do to prevent the first 5% levies. Still they are waging a private and public pressure campaign to make Trump understand how damaging this would be to the livelihood of many Republican voters, the economy as a whole and even to the president's re-election campaign.

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Bloomberg's David Westin, Alix Steel, Erik Wasson and Cyntia Barrera Diaz contributed.
 

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