361. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Mexican Border Restrictions
[Page 763]

US merchants, particularly in Laredo, felt the pinch and made loud complaints at State, here and on the Hill. On both occasions strong representations to the Mexican Ambassador and the Foreign Office brought relaxation of the enforcement.

While we protested the Mexican action, our grounds were not strong because the Mexican Government was simply enforcing customs regulations on the books—even though not always applied. Mexico has a peculiar customs system under which nationals returning by air can bring back a long list of articles duty free, while overland returnees are restricted to just a few items. We understand the severe enforcement measures at Christmas and Washington’s birthday were due to pressure of Monterrey merchants who anticipated heavy purchases in US border cities by Mexicans living in the interior.

The issue of eliminating the discrepancy of exemptions between air travellers and overland travellers was raised in the US–Mexico Trade Committee meeting last December. The Embassy has also taken it up with the Foreign Office. In view of the recent difficulty, State instructed Ambassador Freeman on March 1 to press for a resolution of the problem.2 He is to point out that purchases along the border by our respective tourists is a two-way street. For years we have waived the Treasury requirement that US tourists must remain at least 48 hours outside the US before taking advantage of the duty-free exemptions for purchases abroad. In the new proposals governing US tourism, Mexico has a privileged position. We expect the Mexicans to reciprocate.

Specifically, Freeman is to seek:

  • —simplification and clarification of customs regulations.
  • —elimination of differences between air and overland travellers, hopefully making the overland treatment conform to the more liberal air treatment.
  • —assurances of consistent enforcement during holiday and non-holiday periods.

I will keep you posted on how these talks progress.3

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Mexico, Vol. IV, 1/68–10/68. Confidential.
  2. In telegram 123164 to Mexico City. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, FT 23 MEX)
  3. An initial report on the Embassy’s efforts is in telegram 3868 from Mexico City, March 15. (Ibid.)