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Former Mexican Ambassador To The U.S. Discusses U.S.-Mexico Trade Talks


As we've just heard, President Trump's tariff threat has led to uncertainty across North America. U.S.-Mexico talks are now underway in Washington, and Trump has set high expectations.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to see security at our border. I'm going to see great trade. I'm going to see a lot of things happening, and that is happening. And as you know, Mexico called. They want to meet.

CORNISH: We're joined now by former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan. Ambassador, welcome to the program.

ARTURO SARUKHAN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Now, Mick Mulvaney - he's the acting White House chief of staff. He's floated a number of ideas for Mexico to kind of stem the flow of migrants and potentially evade these new tariffs. And he's talked about Mexico securing Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. Do you think Mexico is doing enough there?

SARUKHAN: Well, it depends on what enough means. The problem with the tariffs that the president announced is that he talks about greater border security. He talks about stopping more migrants, but there's no clear benchmark of what that entails.

If you look at what the current Mexican government has been doing in the first six months of 2019 alone, Mexico has deported 75,000 Central American migrants back to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and is now hosting approximately 18,000 Central American migrants who have claimed refugee status and are waiting for an asylum hearing in a - a migration hearing in the United States, who've been sent across the border into Mexico and are being hosted by Mexico in the meantime.

CORNISH: So is the approach from Mexico, look; we are already doing what we can?

SARUKHAN: Well, I think Mexico has to say, look at what we're already doing. Two, you're not going to solve this by policy, by ultimatums and tantrums. It's not going to move the needle before that first date of tariffs.

CORNISH: You tweeted yesterday that, quote, "the pain for U.S. consumers and business will only intensify if Mexico retaliates, as it should, with a carousel of countervailing duties." What tariffs would you suggest?

SARUKHAN: Well, Mexico in 2009 - when Mexico was seeking U.S. compliance with the access of Mexican trucks to the U.S. - put in place countervailing duties on everything from apples to pears to corn, which allowed Mexico to target districts and states in the United States that were supporting the teamsters in this case that were the ones pushing back against Mexican access to trucks. This same mechanism is what was put in place last year by the previous Mexican administration in response to President Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum, which were eliminated about 10, 15 days ago.

CORNISH: We're two years into the Trump administration. Do you think that President Lopez Obrador is being tough enough? You talked about tariffs under a past administration, but there are - there's a new leader - right? - in Mexico. And is he being tough enough?

SARUKHAN: There are many in Mexico who would like to see the president assume a much more - a stronger position vis-a-vis the president. I personally - I don't - I won't speak for the Mexican government. I think that you have to step up and confront someone who is articulating policies in a my-way-or-the-highway approach.

But there is a debate going on in Mexico - in fact, there was a new poll that was conducted over the weekend, 24 hours after these measures were announced by President Trump, where 57% of Mexicans polled don't agree that President Lopez Obrador should bend the knee and accept the demands that President Trump has put on the table in regards to migration of Central Americans through Mexico on their way to the U.S.

CORNISH: Finally, what's the likelihood of a deal - the likelihood that President Lopez Obrador can prevent these tariffs from going into place?

SARUKHAN: Well, I think a lot will depend on whether both sides can agree to delink the issues of trade and migration. And they shouldn't be linked in the first place. You're not going to solve migration via tariffs. You're only going to solve migration by working with what has been the most important paradigm of the U.S.-Mexico relationship for the past 10, 15 years, which is shared responsibility. Both countries, because of the dynamics on all issues of a bilateral relationship, have to work together, whether it's confronting organized crime or the scourge of drugs or scarce water resources on the border or the issue of undocumented migration to the United States. We have to work together to deal with these issues.

CORNISH: Former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan. Thank you so much for coming in to speak with us.

SARUKHAN: It's a great pleasure. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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