Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed concern Wednesday night that Malaysia may get an upgrade from the Obama administration in its human-trafficking status in order to remove a potential hurdle to completing negotiations on a vast Pacific Rim trade agreement.
The State Department is expected to bump up Malaysia to Tier 2 from the lowest level in its Trafficking in Persons report that is expected to be released next week, Reuters first reported.
That move would allow Malaysia to remain a part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could be completed later this month in Hawaii.
“If true, this manipulation of Malaysia’s ranking in the State Department’s 2015 TIP report would be a perversion of the trafficking list and undermine both the integrity of this important report as well as the very difficult task of confronting states about human trafficking,” Menendez told The Hill in an email.
“Furthermore, if this report is contrived, it would undermine the credibility of labor and environmental provisions’ enforcement and call into question whether or not they would be manipulated as well in order to meet the standards,” he said.
Menendez specifically got a provision into a trade bill that would prohibit the United States from entering into trade agreements that are fast-tracked through Congress with Tier 3 countries, which Malaysia currently is.
But there is a compromise in the works that would open up trade agreements to countries in that lower rung if they can show they are working to combat human trafficking.
The improved status comes amid calls by human rights groups to ramp up pressure on Malaysia to combat human trafficking and better protect the upward of 2 million migrant workers they argue are subject to horrendous conditions.
"As I’ve said before, it would be a big mistake to ignore the international plight of human trafficking and its relationship to our nation’s trade agenda," Menendez said.
"The deplorable human trafficking crisis in Malaysia merits a global cry for action and justice — not an attempt to sweep them under the rug for political expediency."
Last year, the United States downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3, which means the country wasn't meeting minimum standards to stem trafficking and wasn't making significant efforts to comply.
Under those rules, countries on Tier 3 could lose U.S. assistance and be subject to sanctions.
Tags Robert Menendez