By RICARDO CASTILLO
There is a vast chasm between tweet and fact.
There was a worldwide sense of panic and urgency last week — including here in Mexico — when Tweeting Donald threatened to slap tariffs of 10 and 25 percent, respectively, on aluminum and steel. But there is no real need to worry, at least, not for now.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump doesn’t have to make a final decision on those proposed tariffs for more than a month. The slated date for implementation of the steel tariff is April 11, and for the aluminum tariff is April 19. And, then, Trump has the option of modifying or totally ignoring recommendations on the implementation of those tariffs. So, ultimately, the hoopla may end up being yet another Trumpian tempest in a teapot.
This is the truth of the matter, notwithstanding the noisy news earlier this week over U.S. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn resignation on Tuesday, March 6, after a clash with the U.S. president over the announcement of the tariffs, apparently spurred by ultra-economic conservative Peter Navarro.
Fortunately, the head of the Mexican North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations team and Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo took a cogent “wait-and-see” approach to the matter after the seventh round of talks ended last Tuesday in Mexico City.
Later, Trump announced that if Canada and Mexico fall into line with his plans for the future of NAFTA, they would not be subject to the countervailing duties. What that meant – since the real nature of the NAFTA negotiations are being kept secret until agreed upon – is anyone’s guess, but it was no speculation that Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray went into an apparent panic attack and summoned Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s help – again. President Trump ordered Kushner to travel to Mexico City last Wednesday, March 7, to talk to both Videgaray and President Enrique Peña Nieto. Kushner’s visit was viewed on Wednesday, March 7, with a grain of salt.
Just last week, White House Chief-of-Staff Gen. John Kelly tripped Kushner up by removing his access to top secret security meetings to just regular “secret” powwows at the Oval Office. The reason for the downgrade given in the media was that Kushner was trying to secure some money to pay off his family’s $1.2 billion debt on an apparent white-elephant property they bought on 666 Fifth Avenue in New York.
Among the many accusations flung at Kushner was that there was connivance among Mexican Foreign Relations officials to take advantage of his diplomatic naiveté.
Yet, Trump – jumping over the heads U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and even resigned-but-still-in-office U.S. Ambassador Roberta Jacobson – decided to deal directly with Videgaray and Peña Nieto. Indeed, there are solid grounds to believe that there may be something fishy going on here, and even if there isn’t, suspicion is so thick in the air that you could cut it with a knife.
The one salient issue on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico relation (which goes far beyond NAFTA) was that Secretary Videgaray did not take the “wait-and-see” attitude that Economy Secretary Guajardo had proposed amid fears of an alleged “trade war.” Guajardo said that this is like the Council of the Birds allegory: “There’s a lot of beaks chirping” (mucho pico in Spanish) and no real substance for their twittering.
This is not to say that Tweeting Trump’s first messages were taken lightly.
“We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada,” Trump tweeted on @realDonaldTrump on Monday, March 5.
“NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for the United States. Massive relocation of companies and jobs. The tariffs on steel and aluminum will only come off if a new and fair NAFTA agreement is signed.”
Trump added that Canada must “treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people are addicted and dying.”
In my political book, this reads like arm-twisting at its worst, and there were immediate reactions from Mexicans other than Gallardo and Videgaray.
Moisés Kalach, the chief negotiator for Mexican businessmen, went to Washington to meet with Kevin Brady, head of the House Means and Arbitration Committee. After that meeting, Kalach reported that Brady is fully convinced that, should the tariffs ever go into effect, Canada and Mexico should be exempt.
Also, Mexican businessmen report a lot of lobbying with different state governors who favor NAFTA and underscore Mexico’s importance as an essential trade partner.
“The relationship goes well until Trump barges in,” commented one Mexican entrepreneur.
But for now, the answer to the most immediate question is still hovering in the air: What was Jared Kushner seeking with his visitation?
Whatever the reason for his visit, in Mexico you can expect yet another teapot tempest over it!