Mexico leader cancels US trip in border wall row with Trump

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on
Thursday called off a meeting with Donald
Trump as tensions over the US leader’s vow to
make Mexico fund a new wall on the neighbors’
border boiled over.
Trump had been scheduled to receive Pena
Nieto at the White House next week, for their
first meeting since the inauguration. Instead,
the Republican president is facing a foreign
policy spat during his first week in the Oval
Office.
But their escalating war of words over who
would fund the proposed border wall – a
central pledge made by Trump during his
successful presidential campaign – escalated
to the breaking point on Thursday.
“If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly
needed wall, then it would be better to cancel
the upcoming meeting,” Trump said on Twitter
in the morning.
The bareknuckle early-morning tweet — already
a signature Trump move — shocked diplomats,
but was in keeping with the mogul’s hardball
approach to negotiations and is likely to delight
his supporters.
Pena Nieto didn’t take long to rise to the
challenge.
“We informed the White House this morning
that I will not attend the working meeting
scheduled for next Tuesday” with Trump in
Washington, the Mexican leader responded on
Twitter.
“Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with
the United States to reach agreements in both
nations’ interests.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told
reporters that the “lines of communications”
would remain open and Washington hoped to
“schedule something in the future.”
– ‘Mexico will not pay for any wall’ –
The first salvos between the two presidents
came Wednesday, when Trump ordered officials
to begin to “plan, design and construct a
physical wall” along the 2,000-mile (3,200-
kilometer) US-Mexico border.
Stemming immigration was a central plank of
Trump’s election campaign, but he has
struggled to articulate how the wall will be paid
for, beyond saying “Mexico will pay.”
Republican leaders announced Thursday they
would try to carve out $12-15 billion worth of
US taxpayers’ money for the project.
Trump’s order had put Pena Nieto under fierce
domestic pressure to hit back, and hit back the
Mexican leader did in a video message to the
nation late Wednesday.
“I regret and condemn the decision of the
United States to continue construction of a
wall that, for years, has divided us instead of
uniting us,” Pena Nieto said.
“I have said it time and again: Mexico will not
pay for any wall,” he added.
Around two in three Mexicans have a favorable
opinion of the United States, according to Pew
surveys, but anti-American and anti-Trump
sentiment is not uncommon.
Pena Nieto saw his own approval rating slide
late last year, after he hosted Trump — then
still a White House candidate — in Mexico City.
– NAFTA a ‘one-sided deal’? –
Trump also took to Twitter on Thursday to
gripe about the trade gap between Mexico and
the United States.
“The US has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit
with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from
the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers
of jobs and companies lost,” he said.
That deficit for the trade in goods is slightly
higher than the overall trade deficit — including
services — of $49 billion in 2015.
Trump has vowed to renegotiate the 23-year-
old North American Free Trade Agreement
between Mexico the United States and Canada.
That renegotiation could provide one way for
Trump to claim victory, through increased
tariffs on Mexican goods or higher border
transit costs.
But it could also risk retaliatory tariffs or
blowback from US firms who export $267
billion a year south of the border.
Trump has also ordered officials to scour US
government departments and agencies in
search of “direct and indirect” aid or assistance
to the Mexican government and report back
within 30 days.
The United States is expected to provide about
$134 million worth of assistance to Mexico this
year, with much of the spending wrapped up in
the “Merida Initiative” to combat drug cartels.
Trump was in Philadelphia on Thursday for a
Republican congressional retreat, where he will
have to calm some jitters.
While Trump has pursued a solidly conservative
governing agenda, his outbursts over
inauguration crowd size, his war of words with
the media, and revival of his claim of massive
voter fraud has led to concerns within his own
party.
The Philadelphia meeting will feature another
high-profile guest: British Prime Minister
Theresa May, who will become the first foreign
leader to meet Trump since his inauguration.
May, who addresses the Republican retreat
shortly after Trump, will almost certainly
discuss the prospects of a key post-Brexit trade
deal with the United States.
The two leaders will meet in Washington on
Friday and hold a joint news conference, the
White House said.
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