Mexico Tariffs Deal Less Than Meets The Eye

The President and his supporters are touting the last-minute deal with Mexico announced on Friday, but the details show there's much less than meets the eye.

While President Trump and his supporters are hailing the late Friday announcement of a deal to avert the tariffs that the President was threatening to impose against Mexico if they didn’t satisfy his demands on immigration, it turns out that there may be far less to the deal than meets the eye:

WASHINGTON — The deal to avert tariffs that President Trump announced with great fanfare on Friday night consists largely of actions that Mexico had already promised to take in prior discussions with the United States over the past several months, according to officials from both countries who are familiar with the negotiations.

Friday’s joint declaration says Mexico agreed to the “deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border.” But the Mexican government had already pledged to do that in March during secret talks in Miami between Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security, and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior, the officials said.

The centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s deal was an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed. But that arrangement was first reached in December in a pair of painstakingly negotiated diplomatic notes that the two countries exchanged. Ms. Nielsen announced the Migrant Protection Protocols during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee five days before Christmas.

And over the past week, negotiators failed to persuade Mexico to accept a “safe third country” treaty that would have given the United States the legal ability to reject asylum seekers if they had not sought refuge in Mexico first.

Mr. Trump hailed the agreement anyway on Saturday, writing on Twitter: “Everyone very excited about the new deal with Mexico!” He thanked the president of Mexico for “working so long and hard” on a plan to reduce the surge of migration into the United States.
It was unclear whether Mr. Trump believed that the agreement truly represented new and broader concessions, or whether the president understood the limits of the deal but accepted it as a face-saving way to escape from the political and economic consequences of imposing tariffs on Mexico.

Having threatened Mexico with an escalating series of tariffs — starting at 5 percent and growing to 25 percent — the president faced enormous criticism from global leaders, business executives, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and members of his own staff that he risked disrupting a critical marketplace.

After nine days of uncertainty, Mr. Trump backed down and accepted Mexico’s promises.


Their promise to deploy up to 6,000 national guard troops was larger than their previous pledge. And the Mexican agreement to accelerate the Migrant Protection Protocols could help reduce what Mr. Trump calls “catch and release” of migrants in the United States by giving the country a greater ability to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico.

But there remains deep skepticism among some American officials — and even Mr. Trump himself — about whether the Mexicans have agreed to do enough, whether they will follow through on their promises, and whether, even if they do, that will reduce the flow of migrants at the southwestern border.

In addition, the Migrant Protection Protocols already face legal challenges by immigrant rights groups who say they violate the migrants’ right to lawyers. A federal judge blocked the Trump administration from implementing the plan, but an appeals court later said it could move forward while the legal challenge proceeds.

During a phone call Friday evening when he was briefed on the agreement, Mr. Trump quizzed his lawyers, diplomats and immigration officials about whether they thought the deal would work. His aides said yes, but admitted that they were also realistic that the surge of immigration might continue.

“We’ll see if it works,” the president told them, approving the deal before sending out his tweet announcing it.


Friday’s agreement with Mexico states that the two countries “will immediately expand” the Migrant Protection Protocols across the entire southern border. To date, migrants have been returned at only three of the busiest ports of entry.

But officials familiar with the program said Saturday that the arrangement struck by the two countries last December always envisioned that it would expand along the entire border. What kept that from happening, they said, was the commitment of resources by both countries.

In the United States, migrants must see immigration judges before they can be sent to wait in Mexico, and a shortage of judges slowed the process. The Mexican government also dragged its feet on providing the shelter, health care, job benefits and basic care that would allow the United States to send the migrants over.

The new deal reiterates that Mexico will provide the “jobs, health care and education” needed to allow the program to expand. But the speed with which the United States can send more migrants to wait in Mexico will still depend on how quickly the government follows through on that promise.

Taking this in its best possible light one could argue, I suppose, that Mexico was not implementing its previous agreements fast enough and that the threatened tariffs and negotiations spurred them to agree to accelerate progress on those areas. Doing so, though, puts the lie to the claim that Trump supporters such as Hugh Hewitt and others have been making since Friday evening when the deal was announced. Contrary to those arguments, there were no real new measures that Mexico has agreed to in this deal, instead, the best that can be said is that they agreed to get it done faster, how much faster is a question we don’t have an answer to.

Taking this report in its worst possible light for the President, though, it quickly becomes clear that the tariff threat didn’t really result in any new agreements on Mexico’s part. Under this theory, we need to look only to the fact that from the moment the President announced these tariffs before Memorial Day they were being denounced by business leaders, economists, and others as something that, if implemented, would have been destructive to the American economy at a time when we can hardly afford it. As the week after Memorial Day went on, it became more and more likely that the President was facing a rebellion from Republican Senators, including previously loyal allies like Ted Cruz and John Corbyn. The Chamber of Commerce, a nominally largely Republican-leaning organization, was preparing to file a lawsuit if the tariffs went into effect. And, the stock market likely would have reacted negatively if they did go in effect. By making a deal that isn’t really a deal, the President avoids all of that. In other words, the President agreed to a deal to give him the political cover to pull back from a politically and economically disastrous policy choice.

The final thing to note goes to a point I noted yesterday. As things stand, there does not appear to set any benchmarks by which to determine if Mexico is satisfying its obligations under the agreement reached on Friday. Instead, the whole thing seems to be up to the increasingly random and irrational whims of the President and those who advise him on immigration issues such as Stephen Miller. Trump could wake up Monday morning, or a month from now, and have the idea that Mexico is not living up to its obligations and that the announced tariffs should be imposed after all. That’s not a way to make policy.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, International Trade, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The only thing that this whole episode illuminates is the fact that one can’t make a deal with trump. He doesn’t respect deals that former Presidents have made, and he won’t respect the deals he himself makes.

    If the Tories still think the trump admin is going to ride to the rescue of a no-deal BREXIT they really are a box of rocks and truly deserve the royal buggering they will be subjected to.

  2. Teve says:

    if the United States is going to have any global credibility in the future, the next president is going to have to do a worldwide apology tour.

  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    Trump’s Process:

    1. Take a dump on the floor in the middle of a party
    2. Blame everyone else for “the turd problem”.
    3. Lay a towel over the turd.
    4. Whine that no one is giving him credit for solving “the turd problem”.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Of course it’s a big nothing. Of course it won’t change anything. Welcome to the Trump administration.

  5. Scott F. says:

    @Stormy Dragon:


    I’d only recommend one revision: In #3, Trump only claims to have laid a towel over the turd, while Fox and the Republicans unanimously declare it a most impressive towel.

    Trump’s grift only works when the GOP leaders and Fox act as shills.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    Mexico handled this about as well as they could. They gave Trump nothing new but agreed not to contradict him when he claimed MAGA VICTORY! It wasn’t even a half day before it was widely known the deal was a sham, except of course to the Trumpers, but what can you do about stupid, gullible and nasty? So Mexico has learned the most important lesson about the US: it’s led by a pathetic and stupid man baby who will give away anything as long as you let him claim victory on Fox News. You can of course let real news outlets know exactly what happened. And you only have to negotiate with the Orange One, as the quisling Republicans in Congress have transferred their power to him.

  7. JohnMcC says:

    @MarkedMan: In the process of his initial phone call to the Mexican Pres, Mr Trump implored him to at least PRETEND that they were paying for the wall.

    By now world leaders must have quite a stock of Trump stories. I wonder if we’ll ever hear many of them.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    So many ideas are sprouting in my fevered brain about this one–A Hasbro/Marvel cartoon series featuring Trump and his cabinet as The Anti-Transformers (Less than meets the eye!), or maybe a pro-wrestling tag team: “Macho Man” Trump and “Hulk” Pompeo as The MAGApowers (featuring Sarah Huckabee Sanders as Miss Elizabeth).

    In any event, kudos to the Senators from ConAgra, ADM, and Cargill–without whose courageous intervention, this *deal* could not have come to pass–are also appropriate… I guess…

  9. Ken_L says:

    Intentionally or not, the episode has worked to Trump’s benefit. He’s successfully reframed immigration as Mexico’s problem. Now when border apprehensions revert to the levels they’ve been at since 2010, he can add Mexico to the list of people he blames, along with obstructionist judges and do-nothing Democrats. Because as we know, nothing bad that happens is ever his fault.

  10. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Trump could wake up Monday morning, or a month from now, and have the idea that Mexico is not living up to its obligations and that the announced tariffs should be imposed after all.

    Just as he did with Iran.

  11. Kathy says:

    Having seen it, I must say i don’t care for Potemkin Politics one bit.

  12. Lounsbury says:

    Instead, the whole thing seems to be up to the increasingly random and irrational whims of the President and those who advise him on immigration issues such as Stephen Miller. Trump could wake up Monday morning, or a month from now, and have the idea that Mexico is not living up to its obligations and that the announced tariffs should be imposed after all. That’s not a way to make policy.

    It does though have a fainly amusing madness of King George air about it.