US, Mexico officials to begin talks over tariffs, border – CNBC

The president said last week that he will impose the tariffs to pressure the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to block Central American migrants from crossing the border into the U.S. Trump said the import tax will increase by 5% every month through October, topping out at 25%. It swiftly refocused attention on the border issues.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the president is “deadly serious.”

Still, Mulvaney acknowledged there are no concrete benchmarks being set to assess whether the U.S. ally is stemming the migrant flow enough to satisfy the administration. “We intentionally left the declaration sort of ad hoc,” he said.

“So, there’s no specific target, there’s no specific percentage, but things have to get better,” Mulvaney said. “They have to get dramatically better and they have to get better quickly.”

GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, called the tariffs a “mistake” and said it was unlikely Trump would impose them.

Republicans on Capitol Hill and GOP allies in the business community have expressed serious unease with the tariffs. Some see this latest threat as a play for leverage and doubt Trump will follow through. Earlier this year, Trump threated to seal the border with Mexico only to change course.

Republicans have repeatedly tried to nudge Trump away from trade wars and have specifically questioned the White House’s ability to rely on executive authorities to impose some of them as national security issues.

At the same time, Trump’s efforts to revamp immigration laws have drawn little support in the Congress.

“I think what the president said, what the White House has made clear, is we need a vast reduction in the numbers crossing,” Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mulvaney, who also appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said Mexico could take various steps to decrease the record numbers of migrants at the border.

He suggested the Mexican government could seal its southern border with Guatemala, crack down on domestic terrorist organizations and make Mexico a safe place for migrants seeking to apply for asylum.

Economists and business groups are sounding alarms over the tariffs, warning that they will impair trade and increase the costs of many Mexican goods that Americans have come to rely on.

But Mulvaney played down those fears, saying he doubts business will pass on the costs to shoppers. “American consumers will not pay for the burden of these tariffs,” he said.

He also suggested the tariffs were an immigration issue, separate from the trade deal the United States is trying to negotiate with Mexico and Canada.

Several top GOP lawmakers have expressed concerns that Trump’s tariff threat could upend that deal. The chairman of the Finance Committee, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said last week the tariffs would “seriously jeopardize” passage of that agreement, which needs approval in Congress.

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