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MEXICO CITY, May 8 (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday criticized a U.S. decision to impose a 17.5% tariff on tomatoes imported from Mexico, saying it ran counter to efforts to curb migration into the United States from south of the border.
"This serves to encourage (migration)," Lopez Obrador told reporters at a regular news conference, noting the tariff decision was "the opposite of an intelligent policy seeking to temper the migration issue."
The veteran leftist has sought to avoid confrontation with U.S. President Donald Trump since taking office in December, and put the tariff decision down to U.S. electoral politics.
Noting he did not want to get involved in the matter, he nevertheless said Mexico would defend its tomato producers.
Trump has threatened to shut down the U.S. border with Mexico if the Lopez Obrador administration does not halt the flow of illegal immigration into the United States.
For his part, Lopez Obrador says the United States and Mexico should work together to foster development in Central America to tackle an exodus of people from the impoverished and violent countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday said it would impose the tariff on imported Mexican tomatoes. It was, however, optimistic a deal could be reached to extend a 2013 agreement that suspended a U.S. anti-dumping investigation.
The Commerce Department said in early February that the United States would resume an anti-dumping investigation into Mexican tomatoes, withdrawing from a so-called suspension agreement that halted the anti-dumping case as long as Mexican producers sold their tomatoes above a pre-determined price.
U.S. growers and lawmakers say that deal has failed. (Reporting by Delphine Schrank Editing by Dave Graham and Bernadette Baum)