The question we should all ask is whether President Donald Trump’s threat of imposing scaled tariffs on Mexico will go the way he plans — including shutting down the border.
The fallout of such tariffs would be catastrophic to Mexico’s economy, thereby worsening the migration north. It also would jeopardize the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and have untold effects on the American consumer and the U.S. economy, which is heavily integrated with Mexico, particularly the auto industry. U.S. taxpayers already foot the bill for aid to farmers — Trump signed a $16 billion bailout last month — to ameliorate the prolonged effects of sanctions against China. Does this mean we have to prepare ourselves for more?
The administration’s threat does not recognize the Mexican government’s efforts on its southern border. The preceding government of Enrique Peña Nieto and the current government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador have spent considerable resources at the behest of the U.S. government — including agreeing to allow some Central Americans seeking U.S. asylum to await the resolution of their cases in Mexico. We can only imagine the frustration of Mexican officials at the lack of recognition of their efforts. Likewise, Trump’s threats against the asylum process have created a boom business for human traffickers in the northern triangle of Central America; they are capitalizing to get more migrants to pay them for the harrowing journey north. If anything, the Trump administration has contributed to the recent increase in the number of people traveling north.
It is virtually impossible for the Mexican government to implement new initiatives within the time frame Trump demands — initial tariffs of 5 percent on Mexican goods on June 10 that can increase to 25 percent in the coming months. June 10 is less than a week away. The fact that Trump’s demand is not accompanied by assistance from the U.S. government suggests this is a foolhardy mission from the outset.
López Obrador’s response so far, reminding Trump of the rules of diplomacy and urging him to look at history, shows that the Mexicans are coming to terms with how to prepare a response to such a surreal threat.
Perhaps López Obrador hopes the sectors with the most to lose — automotive, construction, agriculture and mining — will call on the Trump administration to cease and desist from yet another foolhardy plan. Mexico is the United States’ No. 1 trading partner. Not to mention the fact that our neighbor to the north, Canada, also has invested much in the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The issues of the economy and trade have nothing to do with migrants heading north. Trump’s initiative underscores the xenophobic fearmongering that has become de facto policy in his administration. It also should raise eyebrows that this decision came right on the heels of special counsel Robert Mueller’s statement about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and intensifying calls for a Trump impeachment. Trump is rallying his base of support with this call for sanctions because it reminds his supporters that he’s going to make Mexico pay — if not for the actual wall — by punishing the country.
Sanctions as political spectacle are the height of irresponsibility. They set aside the needs of Americans, not to mention our neighbors to the north and south, who will suffer the effects of such shortsighted policies.
Gladys McCormick is an associate professor of history at Syracuse University with specialties in Latin American, Caribbean and modern Mexican history.