September 6, 2019 / 12:41 PM / 3 months ago

Mexico expects relief on U.S. tariff threat as migrant flows drop

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico does not expect the United States to threaten to put tariffs on its goods when it holds talks next week with U.S. officials about its efforts to curb migration from Central America, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Friday.

Soldiers assigned to the National Guard keep watch near a section of the border fence between Mexico and U.S. as seen from Anapra neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico September 5, 2019. Picture taken September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Speaking at a regular government news conference alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Ebrard said Mexico had reduced the flow of undocumented migrants crossing the country toward the U.S. border by 56% between May and August.

At the end of May, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to put tariffs on all Mexican exports to the United States if Mexico did not significantly curb a recent surge in illegal immigration from Central America into the United States.

In June, the two sides agreed to a 90-day window for Mexico to reduce migrant flows after it agreed to deploy thousands of security forces to its borders and began taking more asylum-seekers from the United States while their cases were being processed.

That period ended this week, and Ebrard is to hold talks with U.S. officials on Tuesday to discuss Mexico’s efforts.

Ebrard did not give numbers for apprehensions in August. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is expected to unveil its numbers for August in coming days. Citing preliminary figures, Politico reported that the U.S. Border Patrol arrested roughly 51,000 migrants in the month.

Mexico’s position would be that its strategy of positioning more than 25,000 National Guard militarized police along its borders and stepping up raids on people traffickers has been a success, Ebrard told the news conference.

“I don’t expect there to be a tariff threat on Tuesday,” Ebrard said, pointing to the reduction in migrant flows.

The minister reiterated that Mexico would not accept becoming a so-called safe third country, which would oblige migrants to seek asylum in Mexico rather than the United States.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump has lauded the Mexican government for curbing flows since the June deal. By July, apprehensions at the U.S. southern border had dropped by about a third, according to American data. Trump said this week that trend has continued.

However, the United States is unlikely to remove the threat of tariffs totally or change its position that Mexico should become a safe third country. After meeting Ebrard in July, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Mexico’s efforts but said more needed to be done. August apprehensions are expected to remain higher than the same month a year ago.

Ebrard said the Mexican government would keep investing in social programs in the south of Mexico as well as in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the three Central American countries from which most migrants depart.

“This reduction of 56% in the flow of migrants is a result of diverse measures that the government has taken, in compliance with the Mexican migration law,” he said.

Ebrard said there had been only seven official complaints about human rights violations by Mexican forces.

Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Miguel Angel Lopez; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler

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