Can trade deals be used to fight against human rights violations?

Can trade deals be used to fight against human rights violations?
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I am no economist, but like President TrumpDonald John TrumpPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Trump discussing visit overseas to troops following criticism: report Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation MORE, I know that money talks. As the United States has imposed strict tariffs on Mexico, Canada and the European Union, which are three of our top trading partners and allies, as well as China, President Trump has repeatedly cited the “unfair” trading practices of those nations. Fairness is certainly a worthy pursuit for any administration, especially when it comes to the national interest.

But what if this protectionist ideology sought to defend more than just Americans? Human rights violations might not be top of mind for executives and economists considering the ramifications of the trade policies of the Trump administration, but they should be. As the largest importer in the world, America is uniquely positioned to bring attention and change to places where discrimination, imprisonment and murder are the daily reality for religious and other minorities. Rather than settle for tariff battles, perhaps compassion should dictate, in part, how trade deals evolve and which countries the United States adopts as its partners.

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These issues are especially relevant to a few of our major trade partners. Take China for example. Despite being the second largest economy in the world, many people in China cannot freely practice their faith. While Christians living in China already have limited freedom due to the communist government, those who live in the autonomous provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang can face intense persecution. Christians who convert from Islam or Buddhism can be threatened or violently harmed. Spouses can be forced to divorce, and children can be taken from their Christian parents. This type of persecution has led to China being ranked No. 43 on a watch list of the 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian. China also continues to be the biggest and most important trade partner of North Korea, a country where Christian persecution is so severe it has been ranked No. 1 on the watch list more than a decade.

Mexico, our third largest trading partner, is ranked No. 39. Some may be surprised to see Mexico on the watch list, but corruption has led to various forms of violence due to lack of protection for Christians. Attacks against church members who speak out against criminal organizations have become more frequent, along with government impunity toward the perpetrators. Around two dozen priests have been killed since 2012. The United States has already issued a travel advisory for Americans considering traveling to Mexico due to overall violence. The Trump administration should also consider these concerns in its trade strategy.

India, another top trading partner of the United States, is ranked No. 11 on the watch list for the most dangerous countries for Christians. A recent rise in religious persecution is a direct result of extremist Hindu groups that have been driven by nationalism and a desire to rid the country of both Christians and Muslims. President Trump should refuse to enter into major trade negotiations with countries that do not grant their citizens basic human rights such as religious freedom. The United States should also pressure our allies to reconsider some of their trade deals. While Christians do not face the same level of persecution in many nations within the European Union, those countries have trade deals with religious freedom offenders such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

To be sure, not all countries deserve the type of sanctions that the United States employs against Iran or North Korea, which is why more nuanced trade policies and taxation on imports can still be used to send a clear message. Addressing human rights in business discussions and decisions is not a new approach. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently brought up human rights in trade discussions with China, particularly relating to Canadian citizens who remain jailed in China.

Americans are often quick to boycott companies and commercial sponsors to address a social injustice or to create positive change, often with astounding success. It is time we apply that same economic pressure as a nation to countries that continue to allow religious minorities to suffer. A country that permits violations of religious freedom should be viewed as a sponsor of human rights violations. The United States should take this into serious consideration when shaping trade policies.

David Curry is president of Open Doors USA, an organization that has served persecuted Christians around the world for more than 60 years.