Mexicans launch friendly defensive to deflect US tariffs

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican officials have copied a page from President Donald Trump's playbook in recent days, taking to Twitter to communicate that they are working flat-out to de-escalate tensions over immigration and avoid punitive tariffs on all Mexican exports to the U.S.

Announcements of meetings in Washington, selfies and carefully crafted messages of optimism for cool-headed discussions are some of the tactics on display in social media to respond to an economic and diplomatic emergency that few anticipated. Trump's threat on Thursday to impose tariffs to pressure Mexico to do more to curb the flow of migrants came the same day that Mexico declared it would begin the process of ratifying the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.

Many are questioning the legality of mixing immigration policy goals with trade retaliation, and U.S. business groups are already considering legal action against the proposed tariff, arguing that the countries both produce for each other and together. 

RELATED: Take a look at the products that are impacted by Trump's tariffs: 

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Products directly hit by Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods
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Products directly hit by Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods
Meat: pork; beef intestine; rabbit meat; venison; frog legs
Fish and seafood:live fish including ornamental fish, trout, eels, tuna, and carp; chilled or frozen meat of various types of trout, salmon, halibut, plaice, sole, albacore, tuna, herring, mackerel, cobia, swordfish, pollack, whiting, catfish, rays, and more; various types of salted or smoked fish; other seafood including various types of lobsters, crabs, shrimps, prawns, oysters, scallops, mussels, clams, squid, octopus, conchs, abalone, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins.
Non-meat animal products such as eggs and dairy:Whey products; butter; various types of eggs including chicken; honey; hair of animals including human, hog, horse and badger; animal intestines, bladders; feathers; bones including shells, beaks, corals, hooves, antlers, and more.
Vegetables:onions; garlic; cauliflower and broccoli; cabbage; carrots; turnips; radishes; beats; cucumbers; peas of various types; beans; lentils; celery; mushrooms; peppers of various types; squash; okra; sweet corn; potatoes; sweet potatoes and yams; some types of tomatoes; spinach; Brussels sprouts.
Fruit and Nuts: Coconuts; cashews; almonds; hazelnuts; walnuts; chestnuts; pistachios; macadamia nuts; pecans; dates; figs; pineapples; guavas; oranges; mandarins; clementines; raisins; grapes; apples; pears; quinces; peaches; berries including strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries and others; bananas; a variety of dried fruits; peels of various fruits.
Cereals: wheat, including durum wheat; barley; oats; corn; various types of rice; grain sorghum; buckwheat; quinoa; and more.
Mill products: flours including those form wheat, corn, buckwheat, rice, rye, other cereals, potatoes, and bananas; groats and meal of various types including wheat, corn, oats, and rice; malt; starches of wheat, corn, potato, and more
Oil seeds: soybeans; seeds of sunflower, flax seed, sesame, mustard, poppy and more; planting seeds for certain crops; cocoas and mint leaves; and seaweeds.
Sugars and candies: cane sugar; candies with no cocoa
Breads and Pasta: uncooked pasta; various breads, pastries, cakes, and biscuits.
Prepared vegetables and fruits: various vegetables and fruits previously listen in their prepared or preserved forms; various fruit jams including strawberry, pineapple, apricot, and more; peanut butter; various fruit juices including orange, pineapple, lime, grape, apple, and more.
Other food items: soy sauce; condiments and seasonings; protein concentrates.
Beverages and vinegars: water, including mineral water; fruit or vegetable juices and juice mixes; beer from malt; wine, including rice wine; ethyl alcohol; vinegars
Food processing waste and animal feed: brans from processing; oil cakes; dog or cat food; animal feed
Tobacco products: various types and preparations of tobacco; tobacco refuse; cigars; cigarettes; smoking tobacco
Salts and minerals: salt/sodium chloride; sulfur; graphite; quartz; types of clays; chalk; slate; marble; granite; sandstone; dolomite; gypsum; some plasters; some types of cement; mica; Epsom salts
Ores, slag, and ash: ores of iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, aluminum, lead, zinc, tin, chromium, tungsten, uranium, titanium, silver, other precious metals, and others; slag, various types of ash.
Mineral fuels and oils: coal; lignite; peat; coke; tars; various types of light oil; various types of kerosene; petroleum oils; liquefied fuels including natural gas, propane, butane, ethylene, and petroleum; oil shale and tar sands
Inorganic Chemicals: chemicals such as chlorine, sulfur; carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and silicon; acids including sulfuric, nitric, and more; various types of fluorides, chlorides, sulfates, nitrates, carbonates, and more.
Organic chemicals
Fertilizers: animal or vegetable fertilizers; urea; ammonium sulfate; sodium nitrate; and more.
Tanning and drying extracts, dyes, and paints
Essential oils, perfumes: perfume; lip or eye make up preparations; manicure or pedicure products; shampoo; hairspray; bath salts.
Soaps and cleaning products: various types of soap; leather and textile treatments; polishes for shoes and furniture.
Glues, adhesives, and enzymes
Cigarette lighter fluid
Photographic goods: various types of photo plates; instant film; various types of film in rolls; various types of motion picture film.
Various chemical products: pesticides; herbicides; fungicides
Plastics: vinyl flooring and other plastic floor and wall coverings; sausage casings; bags; gloves including baseball gloves; rain jackets; machinery belts.
Rubber: latex; rods, tubes, and other products; conveyor belts; various types of transmission belts; various types of pneumatic tires; gloves; gaskets; dock fenders.
Raw hides and leather: animal skins including cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, reptile; various types of leather made from cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, reptile; leather trunks and suitcases; leather handbags; CD cases; gloves including ski, ice hockey, and typical use; belts; fur clothing, incluidng artificial fur.
Wood: fuel wood; charcoal; various types of wood including oak, beech, maple, ash and cherry; moldings; rods; particleboard; various types of plywood; doors; corks and stoppers; wicker and bamboo baskets.
Wood pulp products
Paper: Newsprint; writing paper; vegetable parchment; carbon paper; self-adhesive paper; cigarette paper; envelopes; tablecloths; handkerchiefs; folders.
Silk
Wool or animal hair products: cashmere; yarns; tapestries and upholstery.
Cotton: fibers; thread; yarn; denim; satin.
Flax: yarn; fabrics
Man-made textiles: polypropylene; rayon; nylon; polyester
Other textile products, rope, twine: hammocks; fish nets; carpets;
Fabrics: corduroy; gauze; terry towel; lace; badges; embroidery
Headgear: caps; hairnets; wool hats; head bands
Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: stone for art; marble slabs; roofing slate; millstones; sandpaper; floor or wall tiles; cement bricks.
Ceramics: fire bricks; pipes; tiles; porcelain and china.
Glass and glassware: balls; rods; drawn or blown glass; float glass; tempered safety glass; mirrors; carboys, bottles, jars, pots, flasks, and other containers; microscope slides; woven fiberglass
Precious stones and pearls: industrial diamonds; silver and products made of silver; gold and products made of gold; platinum; palladium.
Iron and steel and products derived from the metals:drums; tubes; pipes; doors; windows; screws; horseshoes;
Copper: plates; cables; tubes; pipes; springs
Nickel: bars; rods; wires
Aluminum:powder; cable; wire; screws.
Various metal products, tools, cutlery: industrial items made from lead, zinc, tin, and more; saw blades; bolt cutters; hammers; wrenches; crow bars.
Machinery, both industrial and retail: steam turbines; engines; fuel-injection pumps; air compressors; air conditioning machines; refrigerators; cream separators; hydraulic jacks; escalators; manure spreaders; copiers; automatic beverage-vending machines
Electronics: vacuum cleaners; hair clippers; spark plugs; generators; bicycle lights; electric amps; television cameras; various types of TVs; video projectors.
Vehicles and parts: axles; driving shafts; gear boxes; radiators.
Parachutes

Ships and boats: sailboats; motorboats; canoes; yachts.

Instruments for scientific or medical purposes: microscopes; cameras for non-art purposes; gauges for pressure, electrical currents, and more.
Clocks and watches
Furniture, bedding, mattresses: car seats; wood chairs; furniture designed for offices, kitchens, and more; mattresses; chandeliers; lamps.

Assorted items: buttons; stamps; paintings; collections of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological interest; antiques of an age exceeding one hundred years

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"Almost everyone was caught flat-footed," said Antonio Ortiz-Mena, an international trade consultant based in Washington with the Albright Stonebridge Group who represented Mexico as part of the team that negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s.

Ortiz-Mena said he spent much of the weekend on phone calls and crafting strategies to advise clients in the U.S.-Mexico supply chain on how to navigate the situation. His advice to Mexican officials would be to stay calm and show good faith by ratifying the USMCA trade deal.

"We're neighbors. We're not going anywhere," Ortiz-Mena said.

Mexico overtook Canada to become the top trade partner for the U.S. in April.

Mexico's message has been consistently friendly. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Mexico won't panic, signing off on a letter to Trump as "your friend" and repeating that his country doesn't want this confrontation, much less a trade war.

But on Monday, his top officials also strove to set some boundaries.

"There is a clear limit to what we can negotiate, and the limit is Mexican dignity," said Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Martha Bárcena, at a news conference in Washington. She added that her country has taken steps to offer migrants visas, and said that "without Mexico's efforts, an additional quarter million migrants could arrive at the U.S. border in 2019."

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said that any "safe third country" agreement that would require asylum seekers to apply for refuge in Mexico first would be unacceptable for Mexico.

There has also been some expert trolling. Ebrard posted a picture of himself at a Mexican airport Friday waiting to depart for Washington via Houston, with a Huawei-branded cellphone charging station behind him. The subtle implication: If the U.S. pushes Mexico away, China, a geopolitical and economic adversary, could move in to fill that space.

Mexican Economy Minister Graciela Marquez said she would meet with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington on Monday. Ebrard said a delegation he is leading will hold talks Wednesday with one headed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Ebrard said Mexican Agriculture Minister Victor Manuel Villalobos also is to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Sonny Perdue, as tariffs would "severely" affect the U.S. agricultural sector. The objective is for the U.S. to avoid "shooting itself in the foot," Ebrard said.

Mexico is the top export market for U.S. corn and pork, and Mexico supplies one out of three fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. Tariffs on Mexican agricultural exports are seen raising the cost of avocados, tomatoes and berries for U.S. consumers.

Over the weekend, Mexico's economy minister joined what Mexican Twitter users have dubbed the "Ebrard Selfie Challenge," posting pictures of herself smiling next to the U.S. commerce secretary at the inauguration of El Salvador President Nayib Bukele.

The Mexican strategy of killing with kindness has been met with skepticism and increasingly harsh words from Trump.

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

That followed an earlier tweet in which Trump labelled Mexico an "abuser" that takes but never gives to the U.S. He threatened to lure U.S. companies and jobs back via tariffs unless Mexico stops what he called an "invasion" of drug dealers, cartels, human traffickers, people smugglers and immigrants.

The addition of drugs to the complaint adds another layer of complication to negotiations.

"It's asking the impossible," said Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, a group that researches and advocates for human rights. "It certainly overlooks how much Mexico is trying to cooperate with the U.S."

Mexican authorities have raided migrant caravans traveling through the country's southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca this year. They have deported thousands of migrants and frustrated thousands more who wait endlessly for permits that would allow them to travel legally through Mexico.

Meyer expects U.S. officials will again push this week for Mexico to sign onto a "Safe Third Country" agreement, which would designate Mexico as an adequate waiting spot for migrants wishing to claim asylum in the U.S. She said Mexico should stand firm and resist because it lacks the financial and human resources to process thousands of refugee cases, even if it were willing to do so.

A complete militarization of Mexican borders is also a very tall order. Just as the Mexican border with the U.S. has proven porous, Mexico's southern border with Guatemala features dense jungle and a river that makes it difficult to patrol.

Over the weekend, The Associated Press witnessed migrants arrive in small batches by raft at Tapachula, a border town in Chiapas. Federal helicopters, boats and police were not patrolling the Suchiate River as they have in the past to halt caravans.

But the AP also has seen a migrant woman and two children pulled from a bus in recent days to be transported to a detention center. Residents of Tapachula are routinely asked to show ID while riding public transportation as officials search for migrants without permission to be in Mexico. There were few migrants in the streets or camping in the public parks of Tapachula.

Those passing through Mexico without transit visas have opted to maintain a low-profile over the past weeks as Mexico seeks to detain and deport more migrants — and to draw attention to those efforts.

The National Migration Institute tweeted a picture Saturday of a plane transporting 64 Cubans back to their country from the Gulf state of Veracruz.

Trump says he will impose a 5% tariff on Mexican goods beginning June 10 as a way to force the government of Mexico to keep mostly Central American migrants from crossing into the U.S. He says that until he is satisfied with Mexico's results, the import tax will be increased five percentage points every month through October, topping out at a total tariff of 25%.

Yet there are no concrete benchmarks for Mexico to prove that it is stemming immigration flows.

Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump is "deadly serious" about imposing tariffs on imports, adding that "there's no specific target, there's no specific percentage" that Mexico needs to hit.

"They have to get dramatically better and they have to get better quickly," Mulvaney said.

López Obrador said Mexican officials will try to better communicate their immigration efforts in Washington this week. He issued a memo to "the people" of the U.S. on Sunday saying he wishes to remain Trump's friend and professing that Mexicans are their friends, too.

He closed the letter by saying: "Let nothing and nobody separate our beautiful and sacred friendship."

___

Associated Press photo journalist Marco Ugarte in Tapachula, Mexico, contributed to this report.

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