DETROIT -- Ahead of talks to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico’s chief trade negotiator said he wouldn’t get up from the table without a fight, and sought to enlist business leaders in Detroit and Michigan in his effort to defend Mexico and NAFTA against attacks from the Trump administration.
In a speech here Friday, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal reaffirmed the hard-line position he took last week that any threat by the administration to impose new tariffs on U.S.-Mexico trade as part of upcoming NAFTA renegotiations would be an exercise in futility.
“Opening the Pandora’s box of tariffs will be an endless game,” Guajardo said. “Let’s focus on the things we can really manage: to create more jobs in U.S., Mexico and Canada.”
Guajardo, who met with auto industry leaders earlier in the day, stressed the essential relationship between his country and Detroit, arguing that respecting fair-trade laws would be key to the economic future of both countries.
The Detroit 3 and their suppliers depend heavily on factories in Mexico to produce vehicles and parts, and the tariff-free movement of goods between the two countries.
“Yes, we’re benefiting from this relationship, but it is important to understand it is a benefit that goes both ways,” he said.
The economies of Michigan and Mexico are much stronger, Guajardo said, when they are linked. He said the stagnation of Michigan’s manufacturing activity in the early 2000s was reversed through exports to Mexico.
“We are part of the solution. We are not part of the problem,” he said.
U.S. businesses, he warned, would have much to lose if the Trump administration follows through on a threat to pull out of NAFTA if it can’t negotiate better terms.
The cloud hanging over the cross-border relationship is forcing some suppliers to reassess their investment plans for Mexico, especially after Ford in January abruptly scrapped plans to build a $1.6 billion factory there.
“Remember, NAFTA isn’t only about trade,” Guajardo told reporters. “It’s also about giving clarity and certainty to the rules that govern investment. It’s telling investors that you are basically adhering to clear concepts of how to treat foreign investment.”
As for the Trump administration’s plan to build a wall along the border to deter illegal immigration -- a plan that has aroused deep resentment in Mexico -- Guajardo said that he believes Trump has made his position “very clear,” but that he hopes businesses can see beyond the wall to the big picture.
“If the U.S. decides to build a wall, it’s their sovereign decision,” he said. “We have to respect the sovereign act of a nation. But hopefully, that will not reduce the speed with which we do legal activities, like trade.”