When Congress granted President Barack Obama fast-track authority in June to negotiate trade deals, it included an amendment by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., barring any nation on the bottom rung of the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report from being part of a trade pact with the United States. Malaysia, one of a dozen member nations in the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, has been on that bottom rung, known as Tier 3, since 2014 because of its persistent failure to take meaningful steps to combat human trafficking.
Yet the 2015 trafficking report released last week miraculously moved Malaysia up a rung, qualifying it for membership in the TPP, even though international human rights observers say they have seen no notable improvements in its lax approach to trafficking.
Menendez argues that the upgrades of Malaysia and Cuba reflected politics, not improvements in those countries. Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., the top-ranked members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have asked Secretary of State John F. Kerry for a briefing on the subject.
The case for keeping Cuba on Tier 3 is less clear than that for Malaysia. In the new report, the State Department describes Malaysia as a destination as well as “a source and transit country” for people “subjected to forced labor and women and children to sex trafficking.” Most of the victims “are among the estimated 2 million documented and more than 2 million undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia.”
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Kerry is in the country this week, and we hope he at least has the good grace to feel embarrassed over his department’s decision to turn its back on trafficking victims for the sake of bringing a strategically important country into a trade deal.
This is excerpted from the Los Angeles Times.