Despite protests in Malaysia, US eyes closing TPPA deal by month-end

Despite protests in Malaysia, US eyes closing TPPA deal by month-end

Source: The Malay Mail Online

File photo showing anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) protesters rallying outside Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur on July 16, 2013 to urge Malaysia to postpone its participation in the trade deal. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — The United States is working closely with Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia in hopes of closing the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) this month-end at a meeting in Hawaii, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said in an interview published today.

In the video interview published on Channel NewsAsia, Froman said the goal was to “get it done as soon as possible” although he added ultimately, the negotiations will determine the time table.

“But I think all the countries around the table are keenly focused on getting this done.

“They are working through their own domestic process, get the mandates they need, consult their parliaments, consult with their stakeholders so they would be able to come to that meeting and make sure it’s a productive meeting,” he told the Singapore-based news agency.

When asked how crucial it was for Malaysia to be upgraded by the US State Department in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, he said while it could affect negotiations, “it is still very much a work in progress” in its legislative process.

“I think in Malaysia, they recognise they got a serious problem that they got to deal with. The State Department issues a report once a year, it determines on its own how to rate countries.

“As I understand, it’s under review but we are willing to work with Malaysia inside or outside TPP to make sure that it addresses this important issue,” Froman said.

He pointed out at that the Malaysian Parliament had recently passed an amendment to the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007, which conditionally allows trafficked persons to work lawfully, under supervision. The law has yet to be gazetted at this point.

Quoting unnamed sources, Reuters last week reported that the United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centres.

A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress last month bars countries under Tier 3 including Malaysia which earned the worst US human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the US State Department, from fast-tracked trade deals.

Critics such as DAP MP Charles Santiago urged the US to not prioritise trade over human rights issues as Malaysia has yet to take tangible actions to resolve human rights issues as well as take accountability of the human right abuses.

The TIP report is expected to be out later this week.

US lawmakers, activists alarmed at upgrade in Malaysia’s human trafficking rating

Source: The Malaysian Insider

United States lawmakers and human rights activists are alarmed at the US government’s plan to remove Malaysia from a list of countries with the worst human trafficking records, according to media reports.

The New York Times (NYT) newspaper and Huffington Post website reported that US Senator Robert Menendez will call for an investigation if the US government upgrades Malaysia’s rating.

Malaysia was rated Tier 3 in the US government’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons’ report (TIP), which means that Malaysia is among the world’s worst human trafficking centres and essentially facilitates modern day slavery, The Huffington Post said.

The 2014 TIP report described conditions under which migrants were made subject to forced labour while women and children were coerced into the sex trade, wrote the NYT.

A Reuters report on July 8 quoted sources as saying that the US government was upgrading Malaysia’s status, thus paving the way for it to sign on to the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

The TPPA is a key initiative of the outgoing administration of US president Barack Obama.

“They appear to be giving Malaysia a sweetheart deal,” said Menendez in a July 10 report in the NYT.

According to the Huffington Post, the US senator had authored a law which bars the US from entering into trade deals with Tier 3 TIP countries.

“The integrity of America’s leadership in the human rights arena is at stake… The undermining of the TIP report is an incredibly, incredibly dangerous proposition,” Menendez was quoted saying.

Human rights activist John Sifton meanwhile was shocked that Malaysia’s rating would be upgraded, reported NYT.

“This is a country with a major problem in human trafficking and forced labour. Malaysia has done very little to combat this scourge,” Sifton, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted saying.

“If Malaysia is moved to the Tier 2 watch list, we will view that decision as so extraordinarily unwarranted that political interference can be presumed.

“We would urge Congress to investigate. We would urge the inspector-general of the State Department to investigate,” Sifton told The Huffington Post

Earlier this year, Malaysian authorities found a people-smuggling camp and mass grave site in Wang Kelian, Perlis, near the border with Thailand, which had scores of bodies believed to have been migrants.

A June 3 report in the New Straits Times quoted police Special Branch sources as saying that 80% of personnel of authorities guarding the border were on the take from weapons, drugs and people smugglers.

Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice group Network, said an upgrade for Malaysia would show that “trade and the economy trumps human people’s lives”, reported The Huffington Post. – July 11, 2015.

Rights groups urge US to reconsider Malaysia human-trafficking rating

Source: The Malaysian Insider

Earth is used to fill a mass grave with the remains of unidentified Rohingya people found at a traffickers camp in Wang Kelian, at a cemetery near Alor Setar, June 22, 2015. Deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division Phil Robertson says Malaysia has done ‘precious little’ to merit an upgrade from its former Tier 3 ranking for human trafficking hubs. – Reuters pic, July 10, 2015.

Human rights groups and some US lawmakers urged the US government on Thursday to reconsider plans to upgrade Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking hubs, citing a lack of evidence that Malaysia had made advances against trafficking.

The comments come a day after Reuters revealed that the US State Department plans to reverse last year’s downgrade of Malaysia in its annual “Trafficking in Persons” (TIP) report, a move that could smooth the way for a major US-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.

Last year, the United States downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3, alongside North Korea and Zimbabwe, citing “limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime” and other problems.

It was unclear why the State Department decided on the upgrade. Last year’s report said Malaysia needed to amend its anti-trafficking law and regulations, do more to protect trafficking victims, better identify victims and strengthen policies and laws with more prosecution and convictions in trafficking cases, among other recommendations.

“Without clear evidence that Malaysia has improved its anti-trafficking efforts during the past year, news that the State Department would choose to upgrade Malaysia’s TIP report ranking seems out of step with the administration’s commitment to lead in ending modern day slavery,” said Amy Sobel, a vice-president at Human Rights First, an advocacy group.

Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, a coalition of 14 US-based human rights organisations, said a Malaysian upgrade would lack credibility, would undermine the State Department’s anti-trafficking reports and would be “purely political”.

The upgrade to so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” status, which sources with knowledge of the decision told Reuters the administration had approved, removes a potential barrier to President Barack Obama’s signature global trade deal.

A provision in a related trade bill passed by Congress last month barred from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and other countries that earn the worst US human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the US State Department.

The upgrade follows international scrutiny and outcry over Malaysian efforts to combat human trafficking after the discovery this year of scores of graves in people-smuggling camps near its northern border with Thailand.

The discovery took place after the March cut-off for the US report, which is expected to be released next week.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has said it was unclear whether those killed were illegal migrants.

Some US lawmakers and human-rights advocates had expected Malaysia to remain on Tier 3 this year given its slow pace of convictions in human-trafficking cases and pervasive trafficking in industries such as electronics and palm oil.

“Malaysia has forced labor in agriculture, construction, electronics, textiles and domestic service in homes, and was rightly given a Tier 3 ranking last year – a move we and other groups in the trafficking world supported,” Sperber said.

State Department spokesman John Kirby told a news conference that the report was not finalised, that the TIP ratings were based on pragmatic assessments and were “something we take very, very seriously.”

Wan Junaidi welcomed the upgrade. “Since beginning of 2014, we have been doing our best to satisfy and fulfil our obligations,” he said.

In May, just as Obama’s drive to win “fast-track” trade negotiating authority for his trade deal entered its most sensitive stage in the US Congress, Malaysian police announced the discovery of 139 graves in jungle camps used by suspected smugglers and traffickers of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

Malaysia hopes to be a signatory to Obama’s legacy-defining Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would link a dozen countries, cover 40% of the world economy and form a central element of his strategic shift towards Asia.

On June 29, Obama signed into law legislation giving him “fast-track” power to push ahead on the deal.

Senator Benjamin Cardin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to express his concern to the White House over the planned upgrade. “It is essential that we maintain the integrity of the TIP ranking system, and the United States’ extraordinary leadership on this issue,” his spokeswoman, Sue Walitsky, said in a statement.

Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said, “Our legitimacy and moral authority on the issue of human trafficking is being undermined in an effort to smooth the path for the TPP.”

Lawmakers are working on a compromise that would let Malaysia and other countries on the human trafficking black-list participate in fast-tracked trade deals if the administration verified they have taken concrete steps to address the most important issues identified in the annual trafficking report.

The State Department would have needed to show that Malaysia had neither fully complied with minimum anti-trafficking standards nor made significant efforts to do so to justify keeping Malaysia on Tier 3, which can lead to penalties such as the withholding of some assistance.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said he “would be shocked if Malaysia were upgraded”.

“They have done very little to improve the protection from abuse that migrant workers face. They have done precious little, frankly, to merit an upgrade,” he said. – Reuters, July 10, 2015.


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