By Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hope grew on Wednesday for a deal to avoid the United States imposing tariffs on Mexican goods in return for Mexico doing more to halt illegal immigration but President Donald Trump said he was willing to go ahead with the import duties if he is not satisfied.
Trump said he thinks Mexico wants to reach an agreement to stop a new trade war - one that analysts believe might tip its economy into a recession - while a White House trade adviser and senior Republican U.S. lawmaker predicted that Washington might not introduce the proposed tariffs.
"Mexico can stop it. They have to stop it, otherwise we just won't be able to do business. It's a very simple thing. And I think they will stop it. I think they want to do something. I think they want to make a deal, and they sent their top people to try and do it," Trump said during a visit to Ireland.
Frustrated by the lack of progress on a signature issue from his 2016 election campaign, Trump unexpectedly told Mexico last week to take a harder line on curbing illegal immigration or face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States starting on Monday, rising to as much as 25% later in the year.
U.S. border officers apprehended more than 132,000 people crossing from Mexico in May, the Trump administration said on Wednesday, the highest monthly total in more than a decade and reaching what officials said were "crisis" levels.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he was optimistic that the talks in Washington on Wednesday hosted by Vice President Mike Pence could lead to an agreement.
Trump said he would go ahead with the tariffs if Mexico does not do more to control migration.
Lopez Obrador has received an official list of U.S. products that could be subject to retaliatory tariffs if the duties threatened by Trump take effect, officials said in Mexico City.
The list is principally tailored toward products from agricultural and industrial states regarded as Trump's electoral base, according to one of the sources.
Trump has faced resistance within his own Republican Party over the threatened tariffs, with many lawmakers concerned about the potential impact on cross-border trade and on U.S. businesses and consumers.
John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters: "We have conveyed our concerns to the administration. There are a good number of Republican senators who have expressed both publicly and privately to the White House their concerns about this."
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNN Trump's threatened tariffs might not be needed "precisely because we have the Mexicans' attention" on stemming illegal immigration.
If the tariffs go ahead, the United States would be in a serious dispute with two of its three top trading partners. U.S. relations with China have worsened in the past month as Washington and Beijing have imposed additional tariffs on each others' imports.
Mexican officials will offer a "long list of things" in Wednesday's talks to avoid the duties, said Chuck Grassley, Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Grassley said a possible deal could be announced on Thursday night.
Grassley represents the farming state of Iowa, which exports pork and other agriculture products to Mexico and might be hit by Mexican retaliation in a prolonged trade dispute.
Some Republicans have told the White House not to count on the same level of support within the party that Trump received earlier this year when the president declared a national emergency to divert funds to build barriers at the border. Democrats opposed that move.
The proposed tariffs also have been criticized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and industry groups due to concerns about increased costs for U.S. businesses and consumers of imported Mexican goods from cars and auto parts to beer and fruit.
The number of people apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border is at the highest monthly level in more than a decade, but is still lower than at other peak periods of illegal immigration since the 1970s. U.S. authorities have said they are overwhelmed not so much by the number of migrants but by a shift in the type of person turning up at the border in recent years. Increasing numbers of Central American families and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum after fleeing criminal violence in their home countries have been turning themselves in to U.S. border agents, who have long been geared up to catch mainly single, adult Mexicans trying to cross clandestinely.
"Our nation is experiencing an unprecedented border security and humanitarian crisis on the southwest border, both at and between our ports of entry," Randy Howe, the executive director for operations, Office of Field Operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told reporters on a call.
Howe said that on Tuesday alone, CBP apprehended more than 4,100 people and had 19,293 people in custody. "We are bursting at the seams. It is unsustainable," Howe said.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard is expected to try to show the White House at Wednesday's talks that authorities are taking steps to stem the flow of migrants, with Mexico detaining double the number each day than it was a year ago.
Leftist Lopez Obrador has said he wants to persuade Washington to help tackle the causes of migration by investing in Central America to create jobs and speed up economic development.
The Mexican economy will likely slip into recession this year if Trump follows through on his tariff threat, a Reuters poll of market analysts showed.
An industry source who has met with the Mexican delegation said that ideas being floated to solve the dispute are more border controls and joint security exercises on Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, which Central American migrants pass through on their way to the United States.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Alexandra Alper, Roberta Rampton, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell in Washington, Steve Holland in Ireland, Dave Graham, Noe Torres and Sharay Angulo in Mexico City, Gabriel Burin in Buenos Aires and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham)
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Updated Date: Jun 06, 2019 02:05:45 IST