- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2019

White House top trade adviser Peter Navarro on Wednesday forcefully pushed back against criticism that U.S. consumers would end up paying for tariffs on Mexican goods.

“Look, if they could just pass the tariffs on to Americans, they wouldn’t protest it,” he said on CNN. “Mexico would just pass the tariffs on. They wouldn’t protest them.”

President Trump’s threat to slap escalating tariffs on Mexican goods, starting Monday if Mexico does not help stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S., unleashed a flood of criticism from Democrats and Republicans. They fear the tactic will end up damaging the U.S. economy.

Mr. Navarro said it was all hype, just like the criticism over Mr. Trump’s tariffs on China.

“Look, we had the same conversation a year ago. Everybody’s hair was on fire saying consumer prices were going to go up because we were putting a tariff on China. It didn’t happen. China bore the burden of that,” he said.

The debate over tariff policy was the wrong debate, Mr. Navarro said.

“The real argument should be about the costs that illegal immigration imposes upon the United States of America and the fact that neither Congress nor the Mexican government has lifted a finger to do anything about it and that the president has very few options because Congress refuses to act,” he said.

Vice President Mike Pence is meeting Wednesday with Mexico’s foreign minister in a last-ditch effort to avoid the tariffs taking effect. The tariffs on Mexican goods would start on Monday at 5% and increase to 25% by October.

Mr. Navarro said Mexico could agree to three actions that would stop the tariffs.

Mexico would have to agree to take in all the asylum seekers and process them under Mexican laws, which is much stricter than those in the U.S.

Mexico also would have to agree to increase enforcement of its southern border with Guatemala to block the flow of illegal immigrants from Central America. Mr. Navarro said it would be an easier job than what the U.S. faces since Mexico’s border with Guatemala is about 150 miles long compared to the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Lastly, Mexico would have to commit to crack down on government corruption at the multiple checkpoints between its southern and northern border that enable illegal immigrants to complete the journey northward.

“Right now, the Mexican government makes money off illegal immigration,” Mr. Navarro said. “After the tariffs are put in place, the Mexican government will bear a cost of that.”

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