Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a press conference at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, DC, on June 5, 2019, after meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House. Picture: SAUL LOEB / AFP
Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a press conference at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington, DC, on June 5, 2019, after meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House. Picture: SAUL LOEB / AFP

Washington — Mexican and US officials are set to resume talks in Washington on Thursday aimed at heading off punitive tariffs on Mexican goods after President Donald Trump said more needed to be done to curb migration at the southern US border.

The two sides met on Wednesday for discussions led by Vice-President Mike Pence in an effort to strike a deal that would satisfy the US president, who has called for the imposition of tariffs from Monday.

Trump, travelling in Europe to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, tweeted late on Wednesday: “Immigration discussions at the White House with representatives of Mexico have ended for the day. Progress is being made, but not nearly enough!”

Pence told reporters that the US state department would lead talks on Thursday but gave no further details.

Mexican officials, meanwhile, appear to have ramped up efforts to halt the flow of Central American migrants crossing the border to the US, with Mexican soldiers, armed police and migration officials blocking migrants along its own southern border with Guatemala.

It was unclear whether the hardening of Mexico’s response would appease Trump, who is struggling to make good on his key 2016 presidential campaign promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border as part of a hard-line immigration stance.

With efforts to get Mexico and then the US Congress to fund the barrier having failed, Trump threatened to shut down the border completely, before backing off and turning to punitive tariffs.

Last week, Trump said Mexico must take a harder line on the flow of migrants across the border or face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the US from June 10, rising to as much as 25% later this year.

The unexpected announcement rattled global financial markets, and even Trump’s fellow Republicans fretted about the potential economic impact on US businesses and consumers, who would have to absorb the costs.

Mexico would also take an economic hit that analysts have said could spark a recession. Credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Mexico’s sovereign debt rating on Wednesday, citing trade tensions among other risks, while Moody’s lowered its outlook to negative.

Even with more talks on Thursday, it was unclear when any resolution would come, with Trump overseas until Friday.

It was unclear if secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who attended Wednesday’s discussions with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, would lead Thursday’s talks. Pompeo had no public events on his schedule, and representatives for the state department could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ebrard said Wednesday’s discussions had focused on migration rather than tariffs and more discussions were needed on Thursday to find common ground.

If the tariffs go ahead, the US would be in a serious trade dispute with both China and Mexico, two of its top three trading partners.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he is optimistic a deal will be reached, but Mexican officials have meanwhile prepared a list of US products that may face retaliatory tariffs.

Those would target US products from agricultural and industrial states regarded as Trump’s electoral base, a tactic Beijing has also used with an eye towards his re-election bid in the 2020 US presidential election.

Reuters