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Tariff Man’s Bark Is Worse than His Bite

By threatening Mexico with punitive tariffs unless it halts the flow of migrants traveling to the United States from Central America, President Donald Trump has done more than inject more absurdity into the news cycle. He has jeopardized the entire global trading system, and severely damaged America's international standing.

WASHINGTON, DC – Late last month, US President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on imports from Mexico in ten days if it did not halt the flow of migrants from Central America. The tariffs would start at 5% and then increase by five percentage points monthly until reaching 25% in October. The announcement came as a shock, especially given that the United States and Mexico (plus Canada) had reached an agreement on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement just months earlier, at Trump’s insistence. Ratification of the new trade deal, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), is now in jeopardy.

The Trump administration’s flailing efforts to reduce the flow of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border have long been a source of public spectacle. In this instance, after a few days of deep uncertainty, Mexico and the US announced that they had reached an agreement whereby Mexico would take steps to stem the flow of migrants, and the US would refrain from imposing tariffs. Precisely what actions Mexico would take went largely unspecified, or had already been promised months earlier.

Nonetheless, Trump, resembling British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after his return from Munich in 1938, waved a piece of paper in front of reporters, claiming that it held proof of Mexico’s commitment to accede to US wishes. Trump made it clear that if illegal immigration does not decrease at the rate he wants, he will carry out his threats.

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