U.S. and Mexico officials were set to meet for a second day on Thursday to try to avoid a damaging trade war prompted by President Donald Trump’s fury over Central American migrants trying to enter the United States.
But it was unclear whether a deal could be reached Thursday afternoon, with several key officials in the administration unavailable for negotiations. Trump is in France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are on the road.
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Pence told reporters on Thursday before leaving for a D-Day event in Bedford, Va., that the Trump administration had made some progress on Wednesday in talks with Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, but that more work was needed.
“We grateful that the Mexican delegation came forward with proposals. It was a good discussion,” Pence said. “We welcome what [they] put on the table. But, as the president said yesterday, it’s not nearly enough.”
Customs brokers are warning there has not been nearly enough time for them to prepare for a tariff increase. Industry leaders wrote to the administration on Wednesday, urging it to delay the new import duties until U.S. Customs and Border Protection “can develop the procedures by which importers and brokers and reasonably pay them.”
“It is our responsibility as the most knowledgeable professionals, to express our grave concern, even alarm, that it will be impossible to comply, as the mechanisms for compliance are not available between now and June 10, or even before the increase planned for July 1,” the Pacific Coast Council of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association wrote in a letter.
Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been working to formalize Trump’s plan, which he announced on Twitter late last week, but had little information to share about the effort on Thursday.
“CBP is working through the details and the technical aspects to implement tariffs on Mexico,” a spokesperson for the agency said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week issued an analysis of how tariffs on Mexico would affect various states. Crucial border states like Texas and 2020 battleground states like Michigan, Illinois and Ohio would be those hardest hit by the duties, the Chamber said.
If a deal is not reached in the next several days, Trump plans to begin imposing a 5 percent duty on all imports from Mexico beginning on Monday and to ratchet that up by 5 percentage points each month until it reaches 25 percent on Oct. 1 or a deal is made.
The firm U.S. tone stood in contrast with Ebrard’s generally upbeat appraisal of meetings at the White House on Wednesday with Pence, Pompeo, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and other administration officials.
“We are optimistic because we had a good meeting with respectable positions from both sides,” Ebrard said Wednesday after the talks. Ebrard and the rest of the Mexican delegation will be meeting on Thursday with lower-ranking U.S. officials.
“The secretary of State’s team, as well as White House officials, will be meeting with the Mexican delegation,” Pence said.
Meanwhile, Trump’s mind was also on trade, amid all of the pageantry of his whirlwind trip to Europe, which included a state dinner with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
“The Democrats — Congress has been a disaster. They won’t change. They won’t do anything. They want free immigration — immigration to pour into our country,” Trump told reporters on the airport tarmac in Ireland before departing for D-Day ceremonies in France.
“They don’t care who it is. They don’t care what kind of a record they have.”
The president expressed hope about Wednesday’s progress in trade talks with Mexico. But the president doubled down on his threat, predicting that “something pretty dramatic could happen” in talks with Mexico. “We’ve told Mexico the tariffs go on” beginning Monday, he warned. “And I mean it, too. And I’m very happy with it.”
He also ripped the criticism he’s received — including from his own party, which has protested his plan and is eyeing a formal rebuke once it’s finally put in motion.
“And a lot of people, senators included, they have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to tariffs,” he told reporters. “They have no — absolutely no idea.”
Before arriving in Normandy, where he delivered a soaring address praising “the very greatest Americans who will ever live” and honoring surviving veterans of the famed Allied assault on the Nazis, the president also turned the subject to his ongoing trade war with China, threatening to slap tariffs on yet another $300 billion in goods.
“In the meantime, we’re getting 25 percent on $250 billion, and I can go up another at least $300 billion,” he said. “And I’ll do that at the right time.”
With that, he made to leave, telling reporters: “But I think China wants to make a deal badly. I think Mexico wants to make a deal badly. And I’m going to Normandy.”
Nahal Toosi and Caitlin Oprysko contributed to this article.