Trump’s Tariff Threats to Mexico Are Bad for Everyone

Trump’s Tariff Threats to Mexico Are Bad for Everyone

© David Burton 2019

Mexican Tarriff

On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied, . . . ” - Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump, 4:30 PM - 30 May 2019

In the Beginning . . .

     With this threat to impose monthly-increasing tariffs on imported Mexican goods, President Trump has created an image of himself as a loud-mouthed, blackmailing tyrant. The Mexican tariffs are clearly a step too far. To state it in uncertain terms, President Trump is blackmailing Mexico and the Mexican people - ”Bend to my will or I will destroy your economy!” – and with the threat of the tariff escalating to 25%, he could possibly do just that.

     President Trump began his term in office with moves that portended his emergence as a shoot-from-the-hip, Jingoist, loud-mouthed bully. Just a week into office, he instituted a precipitous decline in relations between the U.S. and Mexico, as well as between the United Sates and the rest of the nations of Central and South America.

     Back in 2017, shortly after Trump came into office, the following report appeared in the Washington Post: “A week into President Trump’s administration, the United States’ relationship with Mexico, its third-largest trading partner, is in shambles. The partnership is threatened by the conceivable collapse of a long-standing trade agreement, an immigration crackdown and the imposition of ‘border adjusted’ taxes to fund the erection of a massive border wall that Mexico opposes. The week will end with the indefinite postponement of a meeting between Trump and his Mexican counterpart, . . . a diplomatic rift of a magnitude not seen in decades.
     “Most of the fault lies with Trump, who has treated Mexico and its government with a condescension reminiscent of the worst version of America’s myopic imperialism. For Trump, Mexico has become the schoolyard’s weakling, a useful designated villain to fuel nativist fears before and after the election.
      - - -
     “. . . Trump has continued to treat Mexico’s government with disdain and arrogance. This week was worse than anything in the campaign. In an unprecedented slight in the modern history of the two countries, he formally announced the wall on the same day that Mexico’s ministers of the economy and foreign affairs had arrived in Washington for high-level talks on trade. . .” (Ref. 1)

Undoing a Century of Being a Good Neighbor

     Immediately upon assuming office, Donald Trump undid more than 100 years’ worth of positive American foreign policy efforts in the Americas. “For a century or so, the United States has sought to foster a ‘good neighbor’ policy with regard to the rest of the Western hemisphere. Donald Trump immediately recast the image of the United States as the bully of Western hemisphere by telling a sovereign and friendly neighbor, Mexico, that he, Donald Trump, would force that nation to pay between $12 billion and $15 billion to the United States so he could build a fence to keep illegal immigrants and drug smugglers out of our country. Some good neighbor! Who gives Donald Trump the authority to tell another sovereign nation what do with their money? I certainly don’t see this power granted to the president in our constitution. I can’t see any international court granting an American president this authority. In one act of stupid arrogance, Donald Trump has endangered a century’s efforts on the part of Democratic and Republican administrations to stretch out a hand of friendship to the other nations in our hemisphere.” (Ref. 2) With his most recent twitter threatening to impose unreasonable tariffs on imported Mexican goods, President Trump has gone even further in trashing U.S. relations with Mexico and with all the other countries in Central and South America.

Trump Does Another One-eighty

     Now, at the start of June 2019, President Trumps is threatening to cripple the Mexican economy because he feels that Mexico isn’t working hard enough to stem the flow of people through that country who want to come to the United States. Back in April of this year, Trump had indicated that he felt otherwise. Just two months earlier, in April, he had said that Mexico was helping to stem the flow of illegal immigrants toward the U.S. southern border when he tweeted: “After many years (decades), Mexico is apprehending large numbers of people at their Southern Border, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” (Ref. 3) and “Mexico, for the first time in decades, is meaningfully apprehending illegals at THEIR Southern Border, before the long march up to the U.S. This is great and the way it should be. The big flow will stop.” (Ref. 4)

     So what suddenly changed in just two months? Maybe it’s not Mexico, but Donald Trump doing another one of his about-faces!

     Mister Trump, Mexico has been taking steps to reduce the flow of refugees toward the U.S./Mexico border! While Mexico “has offered some 12,000 humanitarian visas, it has also deported just under 20,000 migrants in the first two months of 2019 [Emphasis mine] . . . And {Mexico} is now amassing police to stop the next wave of caravans heading north. . . (Ref. 5)

     “Mexico already cooperates extensively with the US to slow Central Americans' journey to the US. Officials even agreed to a controversial Trump administration policy that forces some migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases wind their way through the US court system.
     “Mexico could stop that cooperation at any time — especially if its leaders believe that nothing they do will satisfy Trump . . .
     " ‘There's a very good chance that [tariffs] will be counterproductive,’ . . . ‘Mexico and most countries don't respond well to threats, and it's possible that there's a risk that you could even discourage Mexico from continuing the current cooperation that's going on.’
     “Mexico has also worked with US border agents at certain parts of the border to implement a practice called metering, where migrants are forced to wait — sometimes for months — outside ports of entry until officials let them enter the US and request asylum.
     “. . . thousands . . . remain stuck in Mexico.
     “The Associated Press counted an estimated 13,000 waiting in eight cities in Mexico due to metering, because the US is only letting a small number in per day. Mexican officials have estimated that more than 5,000 other migrants were returned to Mexico to await their court hearings in the US.
     “Mexican shelters and local lawmakers have struggled to accommodate the growing backlog in cities affected by metering, and have long complained about the lack of bed space and resources available for the migrants.
     " ‘At some point it would seem to me that once tariffs are put in place, there would seem to be calls within Mexico to ask whether the current level of cooperation should continue at its current level.’ . . . ‘From their perspective, they may interpret this as, ‘'We don't get credit for anything we do, but we certainly get criticized.’ “ (Ref. 6)

     “There is little {more} Mexico could do to meet Trump’s demands . . . Last year, . . . Mexico was ‘barely able’ to process a quarter of some 30,000 applications for asylum it received last year, and twice that number are expected this year.
      - - -
     “{Mexico} took some steps to deter and deport immigrants, including raiding hotels and other gathering places in southern Mexico, before Trump’s tariff threat, and it’s unclear what more {they} could do given Mexico’s lack of resources.” (Ref. 7)

Trump’s Bullying Tactics

     President Trump is using tariffs as a blackmail tool in his version of a national security crisis, though any rational thinking individual would hardly equate tariffs and trade with national security. Illegals attempting to enter the United States through our southern border simply do not constitute a security crisis, despite all of Trump’s bluster-filled claims to the contrary. Neither do trade and tariffs.
     Trump’s bullying tactics with Mexico will not lower the number of women, children and men leaving El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for the United States. That goal will only be achieved when the people of those countries do not find it necessary to leave their homelands. Instead of initiating destabilizing trade wars, the United States should be working instead to help those countries improve their economic conditions, reduce violence, and institute transparent democratic reforms that empower their citizenry.

     “President Donald Trump has repeatedly shown that when it comes to foreign policy, he prefers bullying over supporting widely held norms. He has embraced dictators while trashing American allies and alliances. He ignores or undermines international institutions that the United States helped to create. And on the trade front, he has slapped tariffs on close allies and partners while invoking vague claims about national security. The latest move came last week, when Trump again threatened trade sanctions against Mexico, a major trading partner, over a humanitarian crisis at the southern border that he helped create. The families escaping violence and poverty in Central America that are crossing the border with Mexico are not a national security threat. But they do look more and more like props in Trump’s reelection campaign. [Emphasis mine]
     “A few weeks ago, when Trump proposed shutting down the southern border entirely, it seemed that cooler heads had prevailed. He backed off and said that he would give Mexico a year to stop the migrant flow and then consider imposing 25 percent tariffs on the country’s automobile exports if the government failed to do so. But Trump doesn’t know how to keep his word, and something apparently set him off last week.
     “In another unexpected tweet, Trump suddenly announced that he was invoking the International Economic Emergency Powers Act and would impose 5 percent tariffs on all imports from Mexico beginning June 10. If Mexico does not stop the migrant flow across the border—or slow it substantially, depending on who you ask—those tariffs will rise to 10 percent on July 1 and continue rising each month in increments of 5 percentage points until they reach 25 percent.
      - - -
     “But Trump’s tariff threat is not a solution; it is bullying, pure and simple [Emphasis mine] . . .
      - - -
     “. . . Does Trump really want a deal? Or does he want a campaign issue?
      - - -
     “Even if there is a deal, and the tariffs are averted, American negotiators will have to deal with the consequences of Trump’s bullying around the world. China, the European Union and Japan are all in the midst of trade negotiations with the Trump administration, and their leaders are warily watching what is going on. Under these circumstances, why would any of them sign an agreement with the United States that Trump could undo with a tweet? The chances of successfully concluding trade negotiations with China, in particular, just got a lot harder. {The} U.S. Trade Representative . . . reportedly wants to keep some of the tariffs on Chinese exports and reserve the option to reimpose others as part of an enforcement mechanism in any deal. Beijing was already resisting that demand and is now likely to harden its opposition.” (Ref. 8)

Damaging Mexico’s Economy

     “If the tariffs are eventually hiked to 25%, the damage to Mexico's economy could even spur a new wave of migration.
     “Mexican migration to the US has dwindled for years, largely due to the country's improved economy and America's slow recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. But that could change if the tariffs hit Mexico so severely that its citizens start losing their jobs . . .
     “Tanking Mexico's economy also won't do much to convince Central American migrants to stay in their home countries or in Mexico . .
     " ‘Weakening the US and Mexico economies and raising the price on goods from our third-largest trade partner will not persuade Central American families to remain in increasingly poor and violent countries . . . This threat will not make Mexico more likely to cooperate and help address the challenges of Central American migration to the US.’ “ (Ref. 6)

     “. . {T}he tariffs would probably push the already-stagnant Mexican economy into recession, sending a new wave of migrants north, as similar conditions did in the early 2000s. . . .
     “ ‘When Mexico’s economy weakens, Mexicans come north.’
      - - -
     “Meantime, some 38% of Mexico’s gross domestic product comes from trade, and 80 percent of that is with the U.S. . . .” (Ref. 7)

Damaging the U.S. Economy

     “U.S. manufacturers warned . . . that President Donald Trump’s threat to impose new tariffs on Mexico could have a ‘devastating’ impact on the economy and may jeopardize the administration’s efforts to win passage of a new North American trade accord.
     “. . . Trump shocked markets by threatening to slap 5% surcharges on Mexican imports beginning June 10, as part of a demand that the country do more to contain a surge of migrants streaming across the border.
     “Both the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC) . . . came out strongly against the threat of tariffs, which come as the United States Mexico Canada trade agreement languishes in Congress.
     “According to an analysis from Deutsche Bank, some 35% of all U.S. auto parts consist of components manufactured abroad — and Mexico’s largest imports to its neighbor to the north are auto related.
     “Mexico is one of the U.S.’s largest trading partners, with a bilateral relationship worth $671 billion {in 2018}, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. That fact was not lost on NAM and AAPC, which echoed fears that the tariffs’ costs would be passed along to consumers.
     “ ‘These proposed tariffs would have devastating consequences on manufacturers in America and on American consumers . . .
     “ ‘We have taken our concerns to the highest levels of the administration and strongly urge them to consider carefully the impact of this action on working families across this country’ . . .
     “ ‘Manufacturers have been working hard to secure passage of the U.S.–Mexico–Canada Agreement, and the last thing we want to do is put that landmark deal—and the 2 million manufacturing jobs that depend on North American trade—in jeopardy.’ “ (Ref. 9)

     Beyond impacting American manufacturers, the imposition of significant tariffs on Mexican products will have a major negative effect on the American consumer. “Retailers . . . blasted the president’s move on Friday. The industry imports around $182 billion worth of goods annually from the U.S.’s southern neighbor . . .
     “ ‘The growing tariff bill paid by U.S. businesses and consumers is adding up and will raise the cost of living for American families,’ the National Retail Federation said in a statement.
     “ ‘Forcing Americans to pay more for produce, electronics, auto parts and clothes isn’t the answer to the nation’s immigration challenges . . .
     “. . . Trump’s tariffs could derail the USMCA {the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace NAFTA}, . . . but it relies on duty free access to be successful. [Emphasis mine] . . . {the USMCA agreement was struck after more than a year of painstaking negotiations with Mexico and Canada.}
     “ ‘. . . the imposition of tariffs against Mexico will undermine its positive impact and would impose significant cost on the US auto industry.’
      - - -
     “ ‘Slapping tariffs on Mexican goods is exactly the wrong move,’ said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.
     “ ‘These tariffs will be paid by American families and businesses without doing a thing to solve the very real problems at the border. Instead, Congress and the president need to work together to address the serious problems at the border,’ the organization added.” (Ref. 9)

Usurping Congressional Authority

     “. . . Where is Congress? The Constitution delegates authority to regulate trade to Congress. [Emphasis mine] For good reasons, Congress began delegating some of that authority to the executive branch after its passage of the Smoot-Hawley tariff legislation helped deepen and lengthen the Great Depression. Congress also recognized that the executive branch needed flexibility to respond to international emergencies and national security threats, and it has provided broad authority over the years allowing the president to impose economic sanctions. But Trump has stretched that authority beyond all recognition, [Emphasis mine] while Congress has done nearly nothing in response.
     “At least some members of Congress have introduced legislation to constrain the president’s authority under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act to impose tariffs for national security reasons. . .
     The use of the emergency powers statute to tax imports represents yet another norm under attack in the Trump era. According to a review by the Congressional Research Service, the statute, which provides broad powers to impose economic sanctions for foreign policy reasons, has never before been used to impose tariffs. [Emphasis mine] Past presidents have been careful to avoid undermining the legitimacy of sanctions as a foreign policy tool by simultaneously exploiting them for protectionist purposes. . .” (Ref. 8)

The Case Against Raising Tariffs

     “Populists peddle tariffs as a punitive measure enacted on shadowy foreign business interests, but what they are in fact is a sales tax on American consumers. They protect inefficient producers by raising the prices of competitors that consumers would otherwise prefer. Sometimes, that results in the competitor being priced out of the market entirely, but it is just as often the case that domestic producers simply take the opportunity to raise their prices and broaden their profit margin. That’s fine for the CEOs and shareholders of the favored firms, but it is a raw deal for Americans who end up with higher prices and fewer choices.
     “Tariffs often end up having the opposite of the economic effect desired, [Emphasis mine] as economists have understood for a very long time. . .
     “Protectionist measures always hurt consumers and often end up enlarging rather than reducing trade deficits as consumers abroad buy fewer U.S.-made goods. . .” (Ref. 10)

     “American consumers would pay a hefty price if President Donald Trump carries out his latest tariff threat against Mexico — but that’s just one of many issues created by the president’s pledge to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on one of the country’s largest trading partners.
      - - -
     “ ‘As we are all fighting to develop plans to exit or to reduce our exposure to China, one of our options — Mexico — is now equally in jeopardy.’ . . .
     “ ‘This could roil U.S. and global financial markets, which could see this as a signal that Trump is leading us in the direction of a global trade war. If that were to happen, the U.S. economy could get hit hard.’ . . .
     “ ‘From a consumer perspective, everything from cars to vegetables would get more expensive. The U.S. imports $53 billion worth of autos from Mexico, and the country also is a major supplier of produce, electronics and apparel, including more than one-third of men’s and boy’s jeans.’ . . .
     “ ‘Prices will go up, sales will go down, jobs will be lost,’ . . .
      - - -
     “ ‘It borders more on the crazy,’ . . . characterizing Trump’s Mexico tariff threat as ‘throwing gas on a fire.’
     “ ‘The really shocking thing about this from a political standpoint is this is an abrupt reversal of everything the administration has been signaling about its top legislative priority,’ . . .
     “{A day before Trump’s tweeted threat, a} . . . U.S. Trade Representative . . . asked Congress to begin the ratification process for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Trump’s replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has called the trade pact ‘a mutually beneficial win for North American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses’ that would create a more level playing field for American exports.
     “Now, its passage is in jeopardy. . . Trump absolutely risks derailing the pact.
     “Slapping tariffs on Mexico would almost certainly be deemed illegal under World Trade Organization rules. Trade experts on both the right and the left say this is alarming because it sends a message to all U.S. trading partners that the president has no compunctions about breaking treaties, even ones he orchestrated. [Emphasis mine]
     “ ‘It’s a clear signal the president does not feel bound by trade agreements.’
      - - -
     “ ‘In the eyes of the outside world, this means that the U.S. is now the world's biggest rogue trader.’ This has far-reaching implications that could leave the U.S. with a tarnished reputation on the global stage well after Trump’s presidency is over, a legacy that could take a long time to overcome.
     “ ‘This action would further undermine the rule-based international trade system that the U.S. so painfully put together in the post-war period.’
     “ ‘This says . . . we’re going to pick trade wars anywhere there’s something that annoys the president.’ ” (Ref. 11)

Unintended Consequences

     Making precipitous decisions without considering and/or understanding all aspects of such actions invariably produces unexpected and unintended consequences. “Trump’s tariff threat . . . has undermined the new trade agreement his administration has negotiated with Mexico and Canada . . . and is a ‘qualitatively different’ encroachment on congressional authority than the President’s earlier imposition of tariffs on steel, aluminum and imports from China, which rest on a President’s authority over national security issues.
     “If tariffs rise, as Trump has threatened not only Mexico, but also China and Japan, ‘they create new uncertainty’ and could wipe out the savings average U.S. families will receive from the Administration’s 2017 tax cuts. . .
     “{It is} estimated that new tariffs {will} cost those families $430 in higher consumer prices {than} last year, and that number will at least double in 2019.
     “While U.S. and Mexican officials are meeting this week in Washington, there is a political irony in Trump’s bullying tactics: The more he threatens other countries such as Mexico and China, the more unpopular he becomes in those countries, giving their leaders even less incentive to yield to him.” (Ref. 7)

Members of Trump’s Own Party Oppose His Mexican Tariffs

     Even members of Trump’s own Republican party realize how stupid and irrational are the President’s tariff blackmail threats. “In a rare confrontation, Republican senators are declaring deep opposition to President Donald Trump's threatened tariffs on all goods coming into the U.S. from Mexico. . .
     “. . . fellow Republicans in Congress warned the White House they are ready to stand up to the president.
     “The public split and looming standoff over 5% tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico revealed a fundamental divergence in values between the president and his party. Trump uses tariffs as leverage {some refer to it as blackmail} to get what he wants, in this case to force Mexico to do more to halt illegal immigration. For Republicans, tariffs are counter to firmly rooted orthodoxy and viewed as nothing more than taxes they strenuously oppose.” (Ref. 12)

     It’s not clear “if the uncertain prospects for a deal and the danger of the tariffs doing more harm than good will motivate Republicans in Congress to stop Trump. An earlier vote of disapproval did not have enough support to override a presidential veto, although GOP opposition to the Mexico tariffs appeared to be growing . . .” (Ref. 7)

     “Republicans hope President Donald Trump will back off his threatened tariffs on Mexico before he forces lawmakers into another public confrontation.
     “GOP senators have broadly signaled they oppose the 5% duties on all Mexican imports . . . If Trump follows through on the tariffs — a move that could harm the U.S. economy and hurt border state senators politically — Republicans may have to vote for a second time this year to oppose a flex of executive power by the president.
     “. . . Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, ‘There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that’s for sure.’ But the Kentucky Republican hopes Trump will stand down before his caucus has to decide whether to rebuke the president.” (Ref. 13)

Final Words

     President Donald Trump wrongheadedly seems to be signaling that protectionist trade measures are high on his agenda. His proposed punitive tariffs on Mexican imports emphasize this perception. “Trump’s views on trade have always been and remain foolish.” (Ref. 10)

     More and more, Donald Trump exhibits the traits of a fickle tyrant who ignores established precedent, tramples the powers of our legislative branch of government and marches to the beat of his own drummer - not the beat of the American people’s drummer nor the beat of Congress’ drummer. According to Lord Donald, rules, precedents and traditions are for everyone else – not for him!

     With respect to using the threat of tariffs to stem the flow of immigrants into the U.S., immigration experts and advocates have suggested that the tariffs will do little to slow migration from Central America — and could even make the problem worse. In reality, Mexico already cooperates with the Trump administration on a number of key immigration initiatives, including the controversial policy that forces some migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases are pending.

     Based upon what America and the rest of the world have observed of Donald Trump’s actions in office, it would seem that he is unconcerned about the consequences of his actions – intended or unintended – as long as he gets his way. Consistency does not appear to be a word in his vocabulary, and neither does discretion. And finally, thoughtful consideration before opening his mouth or taking action never occurs to President Trump. With Donald Trump, it’s “Fire, ready, aim!


  1. Trump is bullying Mexico because Mexico is letting him do it, León Krauze,
    The Washington Post, 27 January 2017.
  2. Is It Time for Donald Trump to be Impeached, Removed from Office or to Resign?,
    David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 297, 29 June 2017.
  3. Trump softens rhetoric on closing border, suggests Mexico is helping to stop illegal crossings, Michael Collins, John Fritze and David Jackson, USA Today, 2 April 2019.
  4. Trump threatens to blow up his own Mexico trade deal in unhinged tweets, Brad Reed,
    Raw Story, 5 April 2019.
  5. Trump’s Bullying on Border Crisis Will Backfire, Shannon K O'Neil, Bloomberg Opinion,
    3 April 2019.
  6. Trump is trying a risky new strategy to force Mexico to stop migrants from reaching the US. Experts say it could backfire spectacularly, Michelle Mark, Business Insider, 31 May 2019.
  7. How Trump's Mexico Tariffs Could Backfire and Increase Immigration, John Wolcott, Time ,
    5 June 2019.
  8. Will Trump’s Mexico Tariffs Finally Force Congress to Rein In His Bullying?,
    Kimberly Ann Elliott, World Politics Review, 4 April 2019.
  9. Manufacturers warn on 'devastating consequences' of Mexico tariffs, Javier E. David,
    Yahoo! Finance, 31 May 2019.
  10. Against the Tariffs, The Editors, National Review, 24 January 2018.
  11. Art of the no-deal: Trump's Mexico threat makes U.S. 'world's biggest rogue trader',
    Martha C. White, NBC News, 31 May 2019.
  12. GOP senators line up against Trump's 5% Mexico tariff plan, Lisa Mascaro, Luis Alonso Lug and Darlene Superville,, 5 June 2019.
  13. GOP senators hope Trump is bluffing on Mexico tariffs so they don’t have to block them,
    Jacob Pramuk, CNBC, 4 June 2019.
  6 June 2019 {Article 363; Politics_43}    
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