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Mexican standoff over tariffs is theater of the absurd

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- Did you notice that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and U.S. President Donald Trump both claimed victory in the recent tariff standoff?

The prospect of an ugly trade war between Mexico and the United States was never a win-win situation. Yet both sides say they won.

It's absurd. This is all political theater, a pair of "Mission Accomplished" photo-ops on both sides of the border.

Obrador riled up supporters in Tijuana, saying that Mexico had triumphed at the negotiating table and emerged with its national dignity intact. "Mexico Wins!" screamed the headline in one Mexican newspaper, while another said that Mexico had "deactivated" Trump. Obrador was cool and condescending, telling the crowd: "To President Donald Trump I raise not a closed fist, but an open and honest hand."

Meanwhile, Trump told his supporters via tweet that the tariffs he had threatened to impose against Mexico would be "indefinitely suspended" because of an "agreement" with Mexico to stop illegal immigration into the United States.

For its part, Mexico supposedly agreed to send thousands of law enforcement officials to the Mexico-Guatemala border, and also agreed to expand its policy of allowing asylum applicants to wait in Mexico while US officials process their claims.

 

According to press accounts, both concessions were made over the past six months. So they were not a result of the standoff.

Regardless, Mexico's concessions aren't worth more than a fistful of pesos. You'll recall that the United States has also, over the years, deployed thousands of law enforcement officials -- i.e., border patrol agents -- to the U.S.-Mexico border, along with thousands of National Guard troops. And it has still been unable to stop the flow of migrants. And what's the point of processing asylum claims in Mexico rather than the United States? It just delays the decision that Americans have to make about whether to take in these folks -- or ship them back home.

Furthermore, the White House has an odd definition for what constitutes an agreement. Mexico gave up something, and the United States gave up nothing -- except a threat that it could never afford to make good on anyway. That's not an agreement. That's a stickup.

To recap, against the advice of his own economic advisers and senators in his own party, Trump targeted, by some measures, our No. 1 trading partner and threatened to impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods, which was set to increase to 25% in four months.

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