President Donald Trump on Friday dropped his unpopular plan to impose tariffs on hundreds of billion of dollars of goods from Mexico after the two countries reach a deal to stem the flow of Central American migrants entering the United States.
Trump said that Mexico had agreed to take “strong measures“ to address migration flows. “The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended,” the president wrote on Twitter in a pair of tweets.
Mexico said it would send 6,000 troops from its newly formed National Guard to the country’s southern border with Guatemala, a move aimed at cutting off the flow of migrants bound for the U.S. border.
Mexican officials emphasized that the agreement doesn’t require having Mexico declared a “safe third country,” as the Trump administration had sought. Under such an agreement, Central American migrants would be required to seek asylum in Mexico if they pass through that country en route to the U.S.
“They proposed in the first meeting to have third safe state, which is not the case here,” Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Friday night outside the State Department after a week of talks. “I think it’s a fair balance, because they had more drastic measures proposed at the start and we agreed to some middle point.“
Ebrard stressed the U.S. commitment to promote development in Central America, but he did not cite a specific dollar amount, despite repeated questions from reporters.
The State Department announced in March that it would cut hundreds of millions in aid to the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras after Trump fumed at the inability of those countries’ governments to halt the outward flow of migrants.
The joint statement released Friday night did not include any new or restored funding commitments.
As part of the deal, the State Department said that it will expand its “remain in Mexico” program across the entire southwest border. Under the program, which started in January, certain non-Mexican migrants have been forced to wait in Mexico until the resolution of their asylum cases.
“This means that those crossing the U.S. southern border to seek asylum will be rapidly returned to Mexico where they may await the adjudication of their asylum claims,” the State Department said.
Mexico officially considers the program a unilateral move by the U.S. but said it would accept migrants for humanitarian purposes. More than 10,000 migrants have been sent to Mexico under the program so far, according to Mexican government statistics released Friday.
An expansion of the program falls short of the broad asylum deal sought by Trump administration officials. The “remain in Mexico” program remains the subject of ongoing litigation in U.S. federal courts. In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit allowed the program to proceed on a temporary basis, reversing a lower court decision to block it.
The move avoids a possible confrontation with Congress over the tariffs, which experts have warned could drastically damage the U.S. economy. The United States imported about $350 billion worth of goods from Mexico last year, including everything from car parts to avocados.
The deal allows Trump to declare victory on an issue — illegal immigration — where he has made little promise so far on a high-profile campaign to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. Trump had grown frustrated in recent months with his administration’s inability to halt the surge of immigrants crossing the southern border.
The president had threatened tariffs against the advice of his top advisers, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and Republican lawmakers, after he spent months complaining that Mexico had not done enough to stem the tide of immigrants crossing the southern border.
On Friday night, after a deal was struck, Trump’s allies immediately praised him for pressuring Mexico to take action on one of his signature campaign promises that he will use in his re-election fight.
“There is only one elected representative of the people who can take credit for changing Mexico’s behavior,” Trump campaign spokesman Matt Wolking tweeted. “And he did it with virtually the entire Washington establishment fighting against him.”
“The threat of tariffs got #Mexico to agree to take unprecedented steps to control illegal migration,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.) “Will be very interesting to see how media covers this now. It is going to be very hard for some of them to give @POTUS credit for this.”
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, applauded Trump for reaching “a solid agreement” and “for deciding not to impose tariffs.”
Some analysts saw signs that Trump might dial back his tariff-setting instincts, out of concern of damaging the U.S. economy and his 2020 re-election chances.
“Washington policy may be changing as the effects of their protectionist policies are starting to hurt the U.S. economy, with jobs growth that is slowing, the same economy that will figure importantly in the 2020 elections,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at financial firm MUFG wrote in a note to clients Friday night.
On the Democratic side, Trump was mocked about the significance of the deal.
“This is an historic night! @realDonaldTrump has announced that he has cut a deal to “greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote sarcastically on Twitter. “Now that that problem is solved, I’m sure we won’t be hearing any more about it in the future.”
The announcement came just hours after the president returned from a weeklong trip to Europe. While he was away, a Mexican team negotiated with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and lower-ranking officials to try to accommodate Trump’s concerns.
All week, business groups stepped up their pressure to persuade Trump not to impose the duties, which they warned would jeopardize his chances of winning congressional approval of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and would cost companies billions of dollars in added taxes, paperwork and complexities.
“We oppose unilateral tariffs and any subsequent retaliation. We are committed to working together to pass USMCA through Congress, but a successful effort depends on keeping North American trade tariff-free,” the groups said in a joint statement earlier on Friday.
But by mid-afternoon on Friday, there were signs that the pieces of an agreement were coming together.
“If we are able to make the deal with Mexico, & there is a good chance that we will, they will begin purchasing Farm & Agricultural products at very high levels, starting immediately,” Trump wrote on Twitter while still on a flight back from Europe on Friday.
It is unclear what a promise of additional farm purchases would entail. Mexico is already one of the top export markets for U.S. farm goods, although sales have been hampered over the past year by retaliatory duties that Mexico had imposed after Trump slapped a 25 percent duty on the country’s steel imports and a 10 percent duty on aluminum. Both sides recently resolved that dispute, which had set the stage for normal trade to resume — before Trump made his latest tariff threat last week.
Trump’s plan to impose a 5 percent duty on approximately $350 billion of Mexican imports beginning on Monday was just a start. To increase pressure on Mexico to reach a deal, he planned to raise the tariff by 5 percentage points each month until it reach 25 percent on Oct. 1.
On Friday morning, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stressed the need to address the root causes of people seeking to escape Central America, including a lack of economic opportunity, “so that migration can be optional, not forced.“ He also said it was unfortunate the U.S. had mixed the issues of immigration and commerce.
The press conference served as a warm-up for a rally on Saturday in Tijuana, Mexico, which he is still planning to hold.
Updated 06/07/2019 11:13 PM EDT
Anita Kumar and Ben White contributed to this report.