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What Has The U.S. Gained From Tariff Talks With Mexico?


What did the United States really gain by threatening Mexico with tariffs? President Trump called off his threat after Mexico agreed to some additional steps against migration.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we didn't have tariffs, we wouldn't have made a deal with Mexico. We got everything we wanted. And we're going to be a great partner to Mexico now because now they respect us.

INSKEEP: That's the president on CNBC. Mexico is sending its newly formed National Guard to its southern border and taking in more people who ask for asylum in the U.S., although critics noted that some of these steps had already been planned. Then the president showed reporters a piece of paper and said it was one page of an additional secret agreement.

So did all this work? We've called White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Mr. Navarro, welcome back to the program.

PETER NAVARRO: Steve, how are you today, sir?

INSKEEP: I'm OK. Can you describe something definitely new that the United States gained?

NAVARRO: Six-thousand troops on the Guatemalan border and the - what's called the Migrant Protection Protocol that Mexico has embraced has been significantly, significantly beefed up. They had agreed to that. What it means is that when people come up on the conveyor belt from Central America to enter our country illegally and falsely claim asylum, we have a mechanism to return them to Mexico. And Mexico had agreed to that, but they weren't really taking many folks.

INSKEEP: I guess we should just note what you're talking about is correct - that Mexico had previously agreed to let people claiming asylum in the United States wait in Mexico until their claims are adjudicated. These are people...

NAVARRO: Correct.

INSKEEP: ...Who have made an asylum claim. And just to be frank, you do not know if they are false or true claims, although you just said they were false.

NAVARRO: Well, we know statistically that about over 90% of the claims are rejected by the courts. And we also know that people come up with scripts - literally scripts, like in Hollywood - that have been given to them to use by the human traffickers.

I think what's important here for your listeners to understand is that, at any given time now, we've got about a hundred thousand people moving from the Guatemalan border up towards Arizona, Texas and California to enter this country illegally. It's become a...

INSKEEP: And you would like them to be stopped, I get that. So these measures that you mentioned were things that Mexico had already planned. They've increased them somewhat. And then the president held up this page that he said was part of a secret agreement. We have to notice that Mexico's foreign minister has said that there is no secret agreement. So who's not telling the truth?

NAVARRO: I think what you just did there was put words in my mouth which aren't correct.

INSKEEP: Please, correct me.

NAVARRO: I'm saying very clearly that in two days, this president got more done than Congress has done in 20 years. We have 6,000 troops going to the Mexican border - to the Guatemalan border. We have a significantly, significantly beefed up protocol for dealing with asylum-seekers. The third issue, which we renegotiated, was dealing with this conveyor belt that goes through the country...

INSKEEP: I - you did use...

NAVARRO: ...And cracking down on that as well. And so...

INSKEEP: Peter, I think - Peter, people heard your words the first time. I do have to ask, though, about this purported secret agreement. The president says he has one. Mexico says he doesn't have one. Who's not telling the truth?

NAVARRO: President always tells the truth. We have some agreements. Look; I think the thing when you have negotiations, it's important to have them between countries, and keep those agreements in the negotiating room. I would say that the vice president, as of this morning - the attorney general did a great job...

INSKEEP: But he didn't do that. He stood before the public and claimed there was a secret agreement.

NAVARRO: ...On this.

INSKEEP: He claimed there was a secret agreement. I mean, he made it public, or made this claim public. I mean, he didn't keep it in the negotiating room.

NAVARRO: I think it's fair to say, Steve, that there will be additional information moving forward as the agreement is enforced. I think - look; let's agree that there's a crisis at the border. Let's agree that before that crisis, neither Congress nor Mexico were taking any significant actions. Let's also agree that within two days after the threat of tariffs, we appear to have significant progress.


NAVARRO: Now, I will be the first to admit that our metric here is what actually happens at the border, so we're going into this with clear eyes. I mean, in a month or two or three...

INSKEEP: Does that mean that you might - does that mean, in a month or two or three, he might make the threat of tariffs again if there's not a change?

NAVARRO: What it means is this president has border security as one of his top priorities. We will do what's necessary to ensure secure borders. It puzzles me why Congress does nothing about this situation.

INSKEEP: Peter...

NAVARRO: So this president stands for secure borders with legal immigration that will elevate this country's society and economy and national security. We don't have that now.

INSKEEP: Peter Navarro, I want to broaden this out a little bit...


INSKEEP: ...Because, of course, you're a trade expert. And you've been very influential, as many people know, in helping to shape White House trade policy. But you're interested in economics. You're interested in improving economic conditions for the United States. And here's a situation in which tariffs were used not to deal with an economic situation, but to deal with other matters of foreign policy and national policy. Is that a model that you would like to see the president embrace elsewhere in the world?

NAVARRO: One of the most important principles of the Trump administration is economic security and national security. And so what happens in terms of our economy also has the implications for national security, and vice versa. This is a clear case using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act where we have a threat not just to our foreign policy and national security but to our economy from the immigration that comes across our border.


NAVARRO: It hurts us economically. So this was an appropriate, legal, regulatory response to a national emergency. And it's totally appropriate to use tariffs in that context, just like it's totally appropriate to use tariffs to fight China when they're attacking our computers and they're forcing technology transfer and they're stealing our intellectual property. Tariffs are a very useful negotiating tool.

INSKEEP: So much more to discuss here. I've got to - Peter, I got to stop you there. But, Mr. Navarro, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for the time. Really appreciate it.

NAVARRO: Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.

INSKEEP: And let's bring in NPR's economics correspondent Scott Horsley, who's been listening in. Scott, what did you hear there?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: When Peter Navarro says it's totally appropriate to use tariffs against Mexico as it is to use tariffs against China, I think he would get some pushback from some of his fellow Republicans. There was considerable skepticism on Capitol Hill about the appropriateness of using tariffs against our neighbor to the south for a noneconomic issue like immigration. And, in fact, there's some push in Congress now to rein in the president's tariff powers. Less skepticism about the use of tariffs in the Chinese context.

INSKEEP: So a different situation, at least according to congressional Republicans. Their comfort level is different there.

HORSLEY: Exactly. And you also heard Peter Navarro say the metric is what actually happens with the border. So we'll be watching that in the months to come.

INSKEEP: Oh, which is a question we've had - exactly what is the measure of success? Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.