Lawmakers concerned about Vietnam's human rights record

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Friday expressed concerns over Vietnam's human rights record amid Asia-Pacific trade talks.

Reps. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) sent a bipartisan letter to President Obama expressing concern with Vietnam’s human rights record, particularly in the areas of civil and political rights, labor rights and religious freedom.

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Vietnam is one of a dozen countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

"As the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership progress, we fear the agreement will not adequately address Vietnam’s limitations of civil liberties and political rights, violations of core labor standards, and restrictions on religious worship," they wrote. 

The lawmakers argue that U.S. trade officials must ensure that Vietnam commits to improving its record as part of the trade pact.

They urged the White House not to implement TPP with Vietnam until the nation's people "can fully exercise their fundamental civil, political, labor and religious rights."

"We are skeptical, however, that meaningful improvement can be made unless Vietnam’s participation is contingent upon tangible improvement on the ground and verifiable confirmation that they have fully met the high standards in the agreement,” they wrote.

In their letter, the lawmakers requested an explanation of why Vietnam was included into the TPP and an assessment of what changes the Obama administration expects to come on the human rights from participation in the trade deal.

They argue that Communist government of Vietnam has escalated its crackdown on those who speak out against the lack of rights, including putting tight controls on Internet access. 

"Vietnam’s poor labor standards are equally troubling," the lawmakers wrote.

Those concerns include the right to collectively bargain on top of Labor Department identifications of child, indentured and forced labor in various sectors, including garments.

The letter says that there are growing restrictions on practicing religion, too.

"The TPP is likely to increase demand for Vietnamese exports and expand foreign investment in the country," they wrote.  

"Without ensuring that dramatic advances are made to protect the basic rights of Vietnamese citizens up front, the TPP will exacerbate the country’s existing failure to protect civil, political, labor and religious rights."