Politics

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro says Trump's new tariffs 'may not have to go into effect' depending on US-Mexico talks

Key Points
  • White House trade advisor Peter Navarro says that President Trump's new tariffs on Mexico "may not have to go into effect," depending on the outcome of talks between U.S. and Mexican officials.
  • Navarro outlines three specific areas where Mexico could make changes to stop Trump from slapping tariffs on its goods.
  • The "No. 1" issue on Navarro's list is for Mexico to "commit to taking all the asylum seekers and then applying Mexican laws, which are much stronger than ours."
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro listens to a news conference about a presidential executive order relating to military veterans outside of the West Wing of the White House in Washington, March 4, 2019.
Leah Millis | Reuters

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro said that President Donald Trump's new tariffs on Mexico "may not have to go into effect," depending on the outcome of talks between U.S. and Mexican officials.

Navarro, a hard-line supporter of Trump's tariffs, said in a CNN interview that there were "absolutely" concessions Mexico could make at the meetings, scheduled for later Wednesday at the White House, that would stop the tariffs on 5% of all Mexican imports from going into effect Monday.

Trump is using the threat of tariffs to force Mexico to stem the flow of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S. border.

The White House advisor outlined three specific areas where Mexico could make changes to stop Trump from slapping tariffs on its goods:

  • Mexico should crack down on asylum seekers, Navarro said.
  • Mexico should strengthen its enforcement of its own southern border with Guatemala, he added.
  • And Mexico should put an end to government corruption at immigration checkpoints in the country.

"That's it. That's what we're looking for," Navarro concluded.

Trump announced the tariffs on Twitter last week, taking the markets and even politicians in his own party by surprise. The tariffs are currently poised to go into effect Monday, and are set to gradually be hiked to 25% by October.

But Navarro said in the interview Wednesday morning that "we believe that these tariffs may not have to go into effect, precisely because we have the Mexicans' attention."

The "No. 1" issue on Navarro's list would be for Mexico to "commit to taking all the asylum seekers and then applying Mexican laws, which are much stronger than ours."

"Look, here's the thing," he said. "If the people who are moving up with scripts to claim asylum from their narco-trafficker, human-trafficker handlers simply understood that that script ain't gonna work anymore getting into America," then the stream of migrants coming up to the southern border to claim asylum "will go to a trickle."

Navarro's focus on "scripts" appeared to reference the alleged problem of migrants reciting language at the border claiming that they have a credible fear of persecution or harm and therefore are eligible for asylum. It's unclear how Mexico would address that problem; U.S. asylum officers, meanwhile, have been directed to challenge such claims, according to internal documents reported on in May by The Washington Post.

The second concession, he said, would be to get "a strong commitment from the Mexican government to put resources" on its own southern border with Guatemala. Navarro explained that the roughly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico is "very hard to police," while the 150-mile Mexico-Guatemala border is not only much narrower and "better yet, it has natural and artificial choke points where it is really easy to police."

The last demand Navarro said the U.S. has for Mexico is to put an end to corruption at checkpoints. "Those checkpoints are designed to stop the flood, but instead it's ... the corruption, the government officials who make money off this human trafficking," Navarro said.

"That has to stop."

Navarro said his three proposed concessions were already made "very, very clear" by a Trump administration official "the first day" that the tariffs were announced. But acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had told reporters the day Trump announced the tariffs that "We did not set a specific percentage, did not set a specific number" for Mexico to reduce immigration levels. "It's a very fluid situation," Mulvaney said.

While Navarro's remarks Wednesday suggested that there was a distinct possibility of averting the tariffs, Trump himself has made the tariffs sound more like an inevitability.

At a news conference Tuesday in London alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump reaffirmed the new policy "will take effect next week."

In a tweet Sunday, Trump appeared dismissive toward the possibility of making significant progress with Mexico during the talks with White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.

"Mexico is sending a big delegation to talk about the Border. Problem is, they've been "talking" for 25 years," Trump tweeted. "We want action, not talk."

Meanwhile, a growing number of Republican senators have signaled they oppose Trump's tariffs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for example, said after a GOP lunch discussion about the White House policy that "there is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that's for sure."

Congress may try and schedule a vote to block the tariffs if Trump uses his emergency powers to impose them.

Trump told reporters Wednesday that "Mexico you know wants to make a deal," referring to the White House talks.

"I think they want to do something, they want to make a deal," Trump said. "We'll see what happens."