State poised to issue report crucial to trade deal

State poised to issue report crucial to trade deal
The State Department will release a human trafficking report Monday that many lawmakers fear could raise Malaysia’s status — allowing them to remain in a sweeping international trade pact.  
Congressional lawmakers and human rights groups are rankled over speculation that the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report will upgrade the Asian nation — one of 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — from tier 3 to a higher status that would help them remain part of the talks. 
The recently signed fast-track law excludes tier 3 countries from trade agreements that are expedited by Congress, including the TPP. 
Since a news report broke nearly two weeks ago, congressional lawmakers have scrambled to rally opposition to any move by the State Department to promote Malaysia amid concerns that the nation has done little to improve conditions for migrant workers. 
On Friday, a bipartisan group of 160 House lawmakers — 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats who supported fast-track legislation — implored Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates 'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report MORE asking him to keep Malaysia as a tier 3 country, the lowest level on the U.S.-produced scale. 
"An upgrade for Malaysia is certainly not merited by the facts we've seen," the lawmakers wrote in a letter. 
Lawmakers have expressed concern that the report’s delayed release was to give Malaysia more time to assure the State Department that efforts are being made to improve the situation. 
Ahead of the report’s release, several protests are planned this week around Washington. 
"So we're left to conclude that Malaysia's upgrade, if reported correctly, has been driven by external considerations," the lawmakers wrote. 
"A decade and a half of progress would rightly be called into question," they wrote.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said last week that the report was still being finalized and Kerry was aware of lawmakers' concerns.  
“So we’re aware of the concern expressed, obviously, and the Secretary will respond appropriately to those members and their concerns, but the report is not finalized yet,” he told reporters on Friday. 
He said the rankings are done through a vigorous process and are "based on an objective view of what those individual countries have or have not done to improve their trafficking in persons situations," he said.
"And it’s not based on political decisions or political factors at all."
- Updated at 7:33 p.m.