According to news reports, the Obama administration is planning to upgrade Malaysia’s ranking in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Advocacy groups are complaining that the move is motivated not by an improvement in Malaysia’s practices but by the administration’s desire to include Malaysia in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These critics are probably right, and it’s all the fault of anti-TPP legislators who tried to scuttle the TPP by linking it to human trafficking.
The trade promotion authority statute passed by Congress earlier this summer prohibits the President from negotiating fast-tracked agreements with countries listed as Tier 3 in the trafficking report. This language was added during committee mark up by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). The ban is a direct and intentional obstacle to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes Malaysia, a Tier 3 country.
The linkage is sorely misplaced. As I’ve noted before, no one who’s worried about human rights and the TPP has explained how U.S. or foreign tariffs improve human rights. Will lowering U.S. and Malaysian tariffs increase the incidence and severity of Malaysia’s human trafficking problems? How so? No, the linkage appears to be driven more by traditional opponents of trade liberalization than by concern for improving the plight of people in Malaysia.
But rather than stop the TPP from moving forward, the trafficking provision has merely required the President to embarrass himself by upgrading Malaysia’s status in this year’s report.