President Donald Trump on Thursday backed away from a threat to immediately shut down the southern U.S. border with Mexico but raised a new specter of eventually slapping tariffs on car imports from Mexico unless it does more to stop illegal migrants and drugs.
Trump prompted panic in the U.S. business community last Friday by saying he would likely close the border this week to deal with a surge of migrants from Central America, but has since walked back the threat.
On Thursday, he told reporters at the White House he wants to see Mexico stop more migrants at its southern border. He gave the country a deadline to do more to stop drugs or face tariffs.
“We’re going to give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop, or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products – in particular cars. The whole ballgame is cars,” Trump told reporters.
Trump made stopping illegal immigration a centerpiece of his 2016 run for the White House, pledging to build a wall on the border to stop migrants. When Congress refused to give him the money to pay for the wall, he declared a national emergency to divert funds from other projects.
On Thursday Trump said media coverage in recent days had prompted Mexico to act to curb the flow of immigrants to the United States and take other action to ease the pressure on U.S. ports of entry.
Trump plans to visit the border at Calexico, California, on Friday.
“A lot of good things are happening with Mexico. Mexico understands that we’re going to close the border, or I’m going to tariff the cars,” he said.
Separately, Mexican exporters said this week they were looking into sending their goods to the United States by air freight to avoid a five-mile (8-km)-long line of trucks at the border caused by the Trump administration moving federal agents away from customs checks to immigration duties.
Auto parts and medical equipment makers were among the Mexican companies considering the more expensive air cargo to avoid incurring penalties for late delivery to U.S. clients or factory closures, Luis Aguirre, the president of Mexico’s manufacturing industry chamber INDEX, said late on Wednesday.