President Donald Trump is sticking to his plan to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods entering the U.S. on Monday, the White House said Friday, even as members of his administration said there was progress in talks with Mexico on stemming the flow of migrants at the U.S. border.
“Our position hasn’t changed. The tariffs will move forward and go into effect on Monday,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump was returning from a weeklong trip to Europe.
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Trump plans to impose a 5 percent tariff on approximately $350 billion worth of Mexican goods unless Mexico significantly increases its efforts to check the northward flow of Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S.
But the White House is also sending mixed messages, with a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence saying Friday that Trump could back off the Monday tariff date if needed.
Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been working on the paperwork necessary to put the new tariffs into effect.
“There’s a legal notification that goes forward today with a plan to implement [Mexico] tariffs on Monday, but I think there is the ability — if negotiations continue to go well — that the president can turn that off at some point over the weekend,” a top Pence aide, Marc Short, told reporters on Friday morning.
Top White House economist Kevin Hassett also told CNBC Friday that “the real news” is that the talks with Mexico have “proceeded very favorably.”
“The president’s going to get back to D.C. today from that European trip and look at a bunch of options and weigh all the options over the weekend,” he said.
Senate Republicans are pressing for a sit-down with the president before the duties take effect. Sanders’ statement has added to concern that there won’t be enough time to broker a solution, a GOP aide told POLITICO.
Trump left for the long-scheduled trip shortly after announcing his tariff plan. Sanders said he has “been getting regular updates” on the talks from Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in the administration.
Sanders said Trump had not spoken with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as of earlier on Friday. She said she wasn’t sure if the talks would stretch into the weekend.
Earlier Friday, the Mexican government said in a statement that it plans to deploy 6,000 national guard troops near its border with Guatemala to help stem the tide of Central American migrants seeking to enter the U.S.
The Mexican delegation, led by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and Ambassador Martha Bárcena, met twice on Thursday with U.S. officials and more talks are scheduled on Friday, the ministry said.
“Among the points discussed, the delegation explained the operation of Mexico’s National Guard, saying its priority will be southeastern Mexico, with 6,000 guard members deployed in the region,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement following the initial two days of talks with Trump administration officials, which ended Thursday.
Despite the plan to continue talks on Friday, some Mexican officials, including Agriculture and Rural Development Secretary Víctor Manuel Villalobos and Economy Secretary Graciela Márquez Colín, have already returned to Mexico City.
There was no mention in Mexico’s statement of whether its government was willing to agree to a “safe third country” agreement, which would require Central American migrants to seek asylum in Mexico if they pass through that country en route to the U.S.
The Trump administration has been pressing Mexico to commit to such a pact. Asked about the issue on Thursday, Pence told reporters he didn’t want to negotiate in public.
“But,” he said, “we made it very clear that, in addition to internal enforcement, that there would have to be new understandings between the United States and Mexico.”
As the Monday tariff imposition approaches, businesses are increasingly frantic about being hit with a steep tax bill.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates a 5 percent tariff on the approximately $350 billion in Mexican goods the U.S. imported last year would total about $17 billion.
If no deal is reached, Trump plans to increase the tariff by five percentage points each month until it reaches 25 percent on Oct. 1. That would amount to a tax of about $86 billion, the Chamber estimates.
Anita Kumar, Burgess Everett and Pradnya Joshi contributed to this report.