President Trump is a man who claims many things. Oftentimes — more than 10,000 times, in fact — these things are provably false or misleading. But sometimes they are just dumbfounding, leaving everyone to try to figure out what he meant.
Such is the case with Trump’s claim this weekend that, as a part of its deal to avert his threatened tariffs, Mexico pledged to increase its importation of U.S. agricultural products.
“MEXICO HAS AGREED TO IMMEDIATELY BEGIN BUYING LARGE QUANTITIES OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCT FROM OUR GREAT PATRIOT FARMERS!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
The problem is that nobody has any idea what he’s referring to. Of the details that have been revealed about the Mexico deal, none of them include some kind of agreement to import more U.S. goods. The joint statement makes no mention of this. And this wasn’t even what Trump was demanding; the tariff threat was meant to force Mexico to halt the skyrocketing flow of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers headed to the U.S.-Mexico border.
But now Mexico is being asked about it. And on Monday, Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, gamely took a stab at explaining what Trump meant.
“As the tariffs aren’t imposed, he would be calculating, I suppose, there would be a boost to economic growth and that that will increase our imports, including grains,” Ebrard said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “That’s what I think he’s saying. But we don’t have a specific agreement on agricultural products.”
So Trump wasn’t saying Mexico will import more agricultural products relative to last week; he was saying it will just import more goods relative to what it would have imported if the tariffs had gone into effect, apparently.
The response echoes and expands upon what Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Bárcena Coqui, said Sunday when asked a similar question.
"It is our understanding that without tariffs and with USMCA ratification, there will be an increased rates, both in agricultural products and manufactured products,” Bárcena Coqui said.
When pressed by CBS News’s Margaret Brennan, though, on whether increased U.S. agricultural exports are actually a part of the deal, the ambassador again tried to put a good face on Trump’s claim.
“What I would say is that, even now, we are the second [-largest] buyer of the U.S. grains and meat and this,” Bárcena Coqui said. “We have an integrated economy in the agricultural sector . . . So what we are expecting without the tariffs is an increase.”
After the interview aired, Bárcena Coqui reportedly emphasized to CBS that her comment was neither a confirmation nor a denial of Trump’s claim.
Which is telling. These are sensitive diplomatic issues. Mexico is trying to avert tariffs that, while creating costs for U.S. businesses and consumers by taxing imports, would also prove crippling for the Mexican economy. The United States buys 80 percent of Mexico’s exports, after all. And as president of the United States, Trump wields a terrific amount of power to apply pressure and pain on our southern neighbors.
It’s clear that Mexican officials would like to say that his claim is bogus and that they didn’t give away the farm (so to speak) in these negotiations. But calling Trump a liar would open up a whole new can of worms. So they have to talk around it.
Of course, this approach also means Trump can basically claim anything he wants, and Mexico will be forced to try to make rhetorical lemonade. And now he appears to be doing just that, hinting that Mexico has secretly agreed to new rules that would mean asylum seekers wouldn’t be in the United States while they await a ruling. Mexican leaders have previously denied this was part of negotiations and vociferously opposed even the concept of it.
Perhaps they’ll simply say that the deal will create incentives for asylum seekers to not actually go the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s basically the same thing, right?