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Mexico's president: If Trump wants to talk trade, he'll also have to talk security

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 13/01/2017 Kate Linthicum
Japan Mexico Diplomacy Presidential Visit - Apr 2013 Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto Speaks at the United Nations University in Tokyo Japan 09 April 2013 © Kimimasa Mayama/REX/Shutterstock Japan Mexico Diplomacy Presidential Visit - Apr 2013 Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto Speaks at the United Nations University in Tokyo Japan 09 April 2013

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has warned that Mexico will push back if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump attacks Mexico on trade or other fronts — using its cooperation on crucial issues such as immigration and security as leverage.

While he didn't mention Trump by name, much of Pena Nieto's address to a gathering of Mexican ambassadors on Wednesday was directed at the incoming U.S. president, who in a news conference earlier in the day had vowed yet again to tax imports from Mexico and to force Mexico to pay for construction of a massive border wall.

Trump's threats helped send the Mexican peso plummeting to a record low Wednesday, when it briefly fell below 22 per U.S. dollar.

In his speech, Pena Nieto said conversations with the U.S. about taxes or trade deals would also include conversations about U.S.-Mexico collaboration on immigration and security.

In recent years, Mexico has stepped up its presence along its southern border in an effort to help the U.S. slow immigration from Central America and other parts of the world. Between October 2014 and May 2015, for example, Mexican authorities detained more Central American migrants than the U.S. Border Patrol.

Mexico and the U.S. also collaborate closely on security issues, from intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies to the Merida Initiative, a bilateral partnership forged in 2007 to help reduce the power of drug trafficking in Mexico. Since then, the U.S. has contributed more than $2 billion to Mexico in police training and cash for better security equipment.

The effectiveness of using security and immigration as bargaining chips is questionable, experts say, in part because U.S. funding for security efforts is in Mexico's interest.

Mexico's vows to do business with countries other than the U.S. in response to Trump's economic threats, however, would ultimately benefit Mexico, economists say.

In his speech, Pena Nieto suggested Mexico is stepping up efforts to diversify its economy to make it less reliant on the United States, highlighting negotiations on an updated European Union trade deal.

Currently, more than 80 percent of Mexico's exports are sent to U.S. markets, which is why Mexico's economy is so vulnerable to Trump's vows to rip up trade deals and tax companies that move operations south of the border.

Pena Nieto criticized Trump's public attacks on several companies planning new factories in Mexico, saying, "We reject any attempt to influence corporate investment decisions based on fear or threats."

Trump's criticisms on Twitter of companies such as Ford, which was planning a new $1.6 billion factory in Mexico, have translated into real world consequences for Mexico's economy. Ford canceled its Mexico plans after being berated by Trump, choosing instead to expand in Michigan. Another car company, Fiat Chrysler, recently said it might be forced to close its factories in Mexico if Trump makes good on threats to levy an up to 35 percent tax on Mexican imports.

Trump has vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and other deals that facilitate more than $500 billion in trade annually between the countries. Discussions of such deals, which are viewed by economists as vital to both the U.S. and Mexican economies, would include conversations about other bilateral issues, Pena Nieto warned, including the U.S. role in the large number of weapons flowing south into Mexico.

But some issues, Pena Nieto said, are not open to discussion.

"It's obvious that we have some differences with the next government of the United States, like the theme of the wall, which Mexico of course will not pay for," Pena Nieto said.

"Basic principles like our sovereignty, our national interest and the protection of our nationals are not negotiable," he continued. "At no time will we accept anything against our dignity as a country or our dignity as Mexicans."

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