Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has rejected any suggestions of his country paying for a border wall and pledged to sign an updated free-trade agreement with the European Union as he seeks to diversify the economy away from the United States.
Speaking in uncharacteristically stern and straightforward language, Peña Nieto told an audience of Mexican diplomats: “All matters that define our bilateral relationship are on the table including security, immigration and commerce.”
But he said any negotiations must include touchy topics for Americans, including putting an end to the flow of illegal guns across the border and arming deadly drug cartels.
“It is evident that we have differences with the new United States government on some issues, such as a wall that Mexico absolutely will not pay for,” Peña Nieto said. “At no time will we accept anything that goes against our dignity as a country and our dignity as Mexicans.
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“Basic principles such as sovereignty, the national interest and the protection of our citizens are non-negotiable.”
Peña Nieto’s pronouncement contradict the insistence of the US president-elect, Donald Trump, that Mexico will cover the costs of fencing off its frontier with the United States.
“I want to get started. I don’t want to wait a year and a half,” Trump said of the wall at a press conference on Wednesday.
The tougher talk from the Mexican side comes as the country confronts the consequences of Trump scolding automakers for expanding production there – taking to Twitter to jawbone them into shifting production from Mexico to the United States.
Ford has already cancelled an investment of $1.6bn to build a factory in north-central Mexico, while Fiat-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne has said high tariffs would make the production of anything in Mexico “uneconomical”.
Trump’s tweets and promises to impose penalties on Mexican exports have hammered the peso. Mexico’s currency reached a record low during his press conference, dipping below 22 per US dollar.
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state nominee, sounded more subdued than Trump on the Mexico topic in Senate hearings on his nomination.
“I would never characterise an entire population of people with any single term,” he said when asked about Trump’s maligning of Mexicans as “rapists” and robbers.
“Mexico is a longstanding neighbour and friend of this country,” Tillerson said. “We’re going to engage with Mexico because of their importance to us in this hemisphere and we have many, many common issues, common areas of concern.”
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Peña Nieto listed Mexico’s concerns in any negotiations with Trump: stopping illegal weapons from entering the country; helping Mexico deal with the waves of migrants from around the world trying to transit Mexican territory “in their desire to reach the United States”; and maintaining the flow of remittances – more than $20bn in 2016 – sent by Mexicans to their families back home.
The president also promised to seek out new markets for Mexican exports – starting with an updated European Union trade deal, which he expected to be signed within 12 months – as Trump threatens to rip up Nafta and slap a 35% tariff on Mexican-made goods.
An Ipsos poll found 57% of Mexicans said they would sooner abandon Nafta than give in to Trump’s demands.