The Facts About the Mexico Tariff Deal

As you likely know, there are no Trump tariffs on Mexican products. Donald Trump argues that he got what he wanted from the threat to apply tariffs to Mexican goods and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) says that dialog worked. There is obviously much spin on both sides of the border. So, let’s break it down.

The Trump tariff threat was to force México to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants transiting México to get to the United States. Trump says he got México to intercede the immigrants on Mexico’s southern border. Trump adds that México has agreed to begin immediately to buy American agricultural products. The latter has yet to be proven.

Because there is the typical political spin from both sides of the border, we must rely on what both countries officially announced to see what the deal includes. Both countries agree that México agreed to deploy its national guard to its southern border to intercede Central American immigrants looking to enter México. Both countries also agree that México will allow asylum-seekers to remain in México while the United States adjudicates their asylum request. Additionally, México is supposed to offer jobs to the asylum seekers while they wait in México. A pilot program to have asylum seekers wait in México was already operating in California and the Trump administration was looking to expand it across the entire border.

Let us look closer at the two agreed upon things.

The first is that México has agreed to deploy about 6,000 national guard troops to the border. One of the first things AMLO started when he took office was to build a national police to focus on violence across México. Although named a national guard, the AMLO national guard is more of a national police force instead of the National Guard Americans expect. Their duty is to police nationally to help quell narco-violence. AMLO believe that the national guard will be less likely to become corrupt. The Mexican National Guard was officially approved on March 13.

The Mexican National Guard was officially deployed this month. It consists of about 25,000 individuals, most from military units.

Donald Trump says that the 6,000 Mexican National Guard units deployed to the southern border was the result of his negotiating through the tariff threat. It probably was but there is more to the story. As the national guard was approved and organized this year, it has existed less than six months. In addition, the guard was officially recognized only a few days ago. It still needs to be organized within the bureaucracy for it to become an effective force. Deploying them to the southern border was likely precipitated by Trump’s tariff threat. How effective they will be remains to be seen as there will likely be much scrutiny from a human rights perspective and by institutional observers looking to see how the judiciary and bureaucracy will address remaining questions about AMLO’s national guard.

In addition, the stated purpose of AMLO’s national guard is to focus on the narco-violence across the country. To do so they will focus on eradicating gangs and drug dealers, of which the southern border is an obvious choke point. Trump’s added requirement that México will break up human trafficking gangs are part of the national guard’s purpose.

Thus, the question is, what did Donald Trump accomplish by forcing México to deploy its band new national guard before they are fully integrated into the Mexican bureaucracy?

The second “win” Donald Trump has articulated is the expansion of Migrant Protection Protocols that allow asylum seekers to remain in México while their claim is processed in the U.S. It is unclear from the announcement from both countries if the protocol is to force México to allow all, or more asylum seekers to remain in México and get work permits in México, or if it is just an expansion of the pilot program across the whole border.

Regardless of which it is, there is an important caveat that must be addressed. The protocols allow for adults to be forced to wait in México, but family units have been off limits during the pilot program. Most of the asylum seekers include children, which means that they may not fall under the revised protocol.

Even if Trump was able to include children in the protocol, which is unlikely and neither country has officially clarified, there are numerous judicial challenges to the scheme making their way through the U.S court system. Once these are settled it may end the protocol scheme altogether.

The one thing that the Trump Administration has been demanding from México is the “safe third country” agreement that would require asylum seekers to request asylum in México before asking for it in America. It is not included in the present agreement.

There is no “safe third country” agreement included; thus, asylum seekers can continue to seek asylum in America.

The New York Times also published an article on Saturday detailing that the two major points of the agreement, the deployment of the national guard troops and the remain in México scheme had already been agreed to by México months ago. Whether this is true or not, the troop deployment and wait in México scheme does not effectively give Donald Trump a clear “win” for his tariff threat.

This is clearly seen when the GOP rebellion of his tariffs are added to the equation and when the reality of the border surge by national guard troops is put into context. The fact that a “safe-third country” is not included makes the failure clearer. Add to this the fact that both countries agreed to revisit the issue in 90 days.

But AMLO was not a winner either in the deal.

At best AMLO succeeded in averting was an economic crisis for México by keeping the tariffs out for now. But AMLO showed Donald Trump that the threat of punitive tariffs can be used for Trump’s 2020 re-election political rhetoric by again using México as a rallying point for his followers. As Trump confronts more and more calls to deliver on his promises or threats of removal from office, he will likely focus his ire on México to distract his followers.

It is clear that AMLO capitulated.

For AMLO, the “deal” allows him to continue to focus on his domestic agenda without having to deal with Donald Trump for at least 90 days. Or, so he believes. Deploying the national guard to the southern border makes sense from AMLO’s domestic agenda point of view.

The only silver lining in the crisis is that we now know what will force the GOP to abandon Donald Trump. It is the threat to the Republican’s economic base, free trade with México. I should also point out that Mexican labor is included in that world view by the Republicans.

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