Mexico, U.S. clash over wall as tough trade talks loom
MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and US President-elect Donald Trump clashed anew Wednesday, January 11, on who should pay for a massive border wall while the countries ready tough talks on trade and other issues.
With 9 days to go until Trump succeeds Barack Obama as US president, Mexico is bracing for a new and complex relationship with its main trade partner.
Peña Nieto said his government will seek "open and complete negotiations" with the next US government and that "everything is on the table," including security, immigration and trade.
But, he said, "at no time will we accept anything that goes against our dignity as a country, and our dignity as Mexicans."
Drawing applause at an annual meeting with Mexican ambassadors at the national palace, Peña Nieto continued: "It is obvious that we have some differences with the next government of the United States, like the issue of the wall that Mexico of course will not pay for."
The cost of building a wall – which might end up being more fence than wall, analysts say – has been estimated at up to $25 billion.
At a press conference earlier in New York, Trump said his administration will quickly begin work on the wall, which the United States will pay for first and get reimbursed later by Mexico.
"I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which we'll start immediately after we get to office, but I don't want to wait," Trump said.
"Mexico in some form – and there are many different forms – will reimburse us," he said. "That will happen. Whether it's a tax or whether it's a payment."
While the Republican billionaire did not mention his previous threat to tap into the remittances Mexican migrants send back home, Peña Nieto said he would work to "maintain the free flow of remittances."
The Mexican currency plunged to a new record low after Trump's press conference, falling 0.9% to trade at 22.20 pesos per dollar.
'Fears and threats'
Trump also renewed his pledge to impose "a major border tax" on companies that ship jobs to other countries like Mexico.
The real estate tycoon claimed credit for a recent announcement by auto maker Fiat-Chrysler of plans to boost investments in the United States as well as Ford's decision to cancel a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico and create new jobs in the US instead.
While Peña Nieto said Mexico was ready to discuss the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump wants to renegotiate, the Mexican leader said his government rejects any attempt to influence foreign investors "on the basis of fear or threats."
Peña Nieto issued his own demands to the incoming administration, which takes office on January 20.
He renewed Mexican demands that the US government stop the illegal trafficking of guns from the United States to Mexico, which the southern neighbor has blamed for fueling drug violence for years.
Peña Nieto also said the United States needs to block the flow of money from illegal proceeds that fund organized crime.
Despite disagreements about the border, Peña Nieto said he will work to have a good relationship with Trump, who takes office on January 20.
'Fascinating' change looms
In an attempt to start off on the right foot, Peña Nieto brought back his former finance minister, Luis Videgaray, as foreign minister last week.
Videgaray had resigned in September, a week after a political firestorm over his role in arranging Trump's controversial pre-election meeting with Peña Nieto.
But Videgaray's previous contacts with the Trump team are now seen as an asset.
"This is a man who certainly has strategic vision, he is a negotiator, he is a transactional politician by nature," Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, told Agence France-Presse.
But negotiations on the wall and NAFTA will take a while if not years, as they have to clear hurdles in the US Congress and with the countries involved in the process, Wood said.
"This is going to be complex, fascinating negotiations," he said. – Rappler.com