MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico and the United States may explore additional steps next month to restrict illegal immigration from Central America, with the threat of tariffs hanging over Mexico if it does not do enough to satisfy U.S. demands, officials said on Monday.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Brazil, Panama, and Guatemala may need to be brought in to help if a deal unveiled last week between Washington and Mexico fails to reduce the numbers of U.S.-bound migrants crossing Mexico.
The deal struck on Friday averted import tariffs on all Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to curb migration.
The Trump administration said on Monday it could still apply tariffs if it judged that Mexico had not done enough, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling reporters it expected to see results within four to six weeks.
The deal cut between the two nations last week means Mexico will expand a program under which migrants applying for asylum in the United States wait out the process in Mexico. Mexico also pledged to reinforce its southern border with Guatemala with 6,000 members of its National Guard militarized police.
A major sticking point in last week’s talks was a U.S. demand that Mexico be declared a “safe third country” for asylum seekers, requiring them to seek refuge in Mexico if they passed through the country on the way to the United States.
Mexico rejected that demand, though Ebrard revealed it would go back on the table if Mexico could not stem the flow of migrants heading to the U.S. border.
“If we don’t have results on what we’re doing (in 45 days), we’ll start conversations on what they want, which is that Mexico will be a safe third country,” he told Mexican radio.
Such a step would require the Mexican government to consult the Senate on how to proceed, Ebrard said.
Trump said on Monday afternoon Mexico would soon announce an “undisclosed portion” of the deal that would have to be taken up by the Mexican Congress. He did not offer more details.
“They have to get approval, and they will get approval. If they don’t get approval, we’ll have to think in terms of tariffs or whatever,” he told reporters at the White House.
U.S. stocks were higher on Monday after the deal, easing worries about the impact of another trade war on the global economy. The Mexican peso rose more than 2% against the dollar.
Ebrard said that if Mexico could not contain the migrant flows, other countries might also need to be involved.
Asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras first pass through Guatemala when fleeing their homes, while Cubans and Haitians often fly first to Panama before heading to the United States through Mexico. Migrants from African countries regularly fly to Brazil before making the arduous journey north.
“If the measures we are proposing are not successful, we have to discuss with the United States and with other countries, like Guatemala, Panama and Brazil,” Ebrard said. “If we have to participate in a regional model like the one I have just described, we would have to present that to Congress.”
While he did not go into detail, Ebrard suggested that asylum seekers might have to seek refuge in the first country they reached after leaving their homeland.
The governments of Brazil, Panama and Guatemala did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
U.S. border officers apprehended more than 132,000 people crossing from Mexico in May, the highest monthly level since 2006. Trump, who has called the surge in migrants an “invasion,” had threatened to keep raising duties up to 25% unless Mexico did more to curb it.
Mexico had no specific target for the reduction of migrant numbers, Ebrard said. Still, Martha Barcena, Mexico’s ambassador to Washington, told CBS News at the weekend there had been discussion of reducing the numbers to levels of around 2018.
Ebrard also said there was no agreement between the United States and Mexico to purchase more agricultural products under the accord, despite Trump saying over the weekend that Mexico had agreed to buy “large quantities” from U.S. farmers.
Ebrard said he thought Trump might be making a calculation based on Mexican agricultural imports when freed from the threat of tariffs.
Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Lesley Wroughton, Doina Chiacu and Makini Brice in Washington and Frank Jack Daniel, Diego Ore and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Peter Cooney