Menendez Speaks on Trade Promotion Authority

Menendez Speaks on Trade Promotion Authority

Cautions Against Stripping Bipartisan Amendment to Hold Countries with Deplorable Human Trafficking Records Accountable

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor as the Senate prepares to consider Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation to establish rules for international trade negotiations. On April 22, 2015, the Senate Finance Committee reported TPA legislation that included a Menendez-authored amendment to prevent expedited trade deals with countries that have deplorable records on human trafficking.

Below are his full remarks as prepared for delivery:

“I rise today to draw attention to the international plight of human trafficking and its relationship to our nation’s trade agenda. According to the State Department’s Trafficking in Person’s report, “human trafficking” is about recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. It is an unacceptable global scourge that must end and cannot be rewarded by any trade agreement.

“Sexual exploitation, forced labor, forced marriage, debt-bondage, and the sale and exploitation of children around the world – should be a global cry for justice...
But -- as Benjamin Franklin said – ‘Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.’ Today, we are all outraged at the violence, the psychological terror, and the greed that drives human trafficking.

“We’re outraged that there are 50 million refugees and displaced people around the world – the largest number since World War II, many of whom are targets of traffickers. We’re outraged that 36 million women, children and men around the world are subjected to involuntary labor or sexual exploitation. We’re outraged when we hear that over five million of them are children – that forced labor generates about 150-plus-billion-dollars in profits annually, the second largest income source for international criminals next to the drug trade. For the victims of these crimes, the term ‘modern slavery’ more starkly describes what is happening around the world – and it must end!

“The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) requires that the State Department annually publish a Trafficking in Persons – or TIP – Report that ranks each country based on the extent of government action to combat trafficking. Tier 3 is the worst of these rankings. It indicates that a government does not comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so. Tier 3 countries are those that have not even taken the most basic steps to address their human trafficking problem, and have not provided protection for trafficking victims.

“And, in the most recent TIP report published, the State Department ranked 23 countries as Tier 3. Countries like North Korea, Iran, and Cuba have flaunted international legal norms and threatened to upend global security. And I am most disappointed to say that Malaysia, a middle-income country by most standards -- a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations -- has the resources and wherewithal to address human trafficking within its borders, but has for years now failed to take sufficient action to warrant an upgrade on the TIP report.

“It’s unfortunate that the scale of the human trafficking problem in Malaysia is vast and is in sectors that will directly benefit from increased trade when the TPP trade agreement is concluded. The State Department’s 2014 TIP report states: ‘Many migrant workers on agricultural plantations, at construction sites, in textile factories, and in homes as domestic workers throughout Malaysia are exploited and subjected to practices indicative of forced labor, such as restrictions on movement, deceit and fraud in wages, passport confiscation, and imposition of significant debts by recruitment agents or employers.’

“And most disappointingly, the State Department wrote last year that the Malaysian government was neglecting the problem. The 2014 TIP report continues to read: ‘Malaysian authorities continued to detain trafficking victims in government facilities for periods of time that sometimes exceeded a year; victims had limited freedom of movement and were not allowed to work outside the facilities. The government provided minimal basic services to those staying in its shelters; NGOs—with no financial support from the government—provided the majority of rehabilitation and counseling services. The government identified 650 potential victims in 2013—significantly fewer than the 1,096 potential victims identified in 2012. It reported fewer investigations (89 compared to 190) and fewer convictions (nine compared to 21) compared to the previous year.’

“Furthermore, in January 2013 the Malaysian government implemented a policy that places the burden of paying immigration and employment authorization fees on foreign workers, rather than on employers, increasing the risk of workers falling into debt bondage. And -- while nearly a year has passed since the State Department issued its 2014 report -- as recently as April 17th, the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia said that the Malaysian government needs to show greater political will in prosecuting human traffickers and protecting their victims if the country hopes to improve on its current lowest ranking in the TIP report.

“It is precisely to combat crimes like these that the Congress has taken action this year to fight modern slavery. Earlier this year, the Foreign Relations Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Corker, held an important hearing on human trafficking on February 4th. On April 22, Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey held a House subcommittee hearing examining the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report -- emphasizing the need to maintain the integrity of the tier ranking system. On that same day, the Senate voted 99-0 on April 22 for the Justice for Victims Trafficking Act authored by Senator Cornyn. And later that day, in the Finance Committee, a bipartisan group of 16 Senators voted for my amendment to prohibit “fast track” procedures from applying to any trade agreement with a country ranked as Tier 3.

“Congress has never before approved a free trade agreement, much less “fast tracked” one, with any country while it was ranked Tier 3, and I do not believe we should start now! I want to be clear – the amendment I offered -- and was admitted with a bipartisan vote in the Finance Committee-- is not meant to single out Malaysia or any other country. My anti-trafficking amendment to the Fast Track bill is a simple, bipartisan statement of our American values

“Contrary to the Administration’s comments. My amendment is not a Poison Pill. Nothing could be further from the truth. Senator Cornyn, perhaps the Senate’s strongest advocate for victims of human trafficking, voted for my amendment. Senator Portman, former United States Trade Representative, voted for my amendment. Senator Wyden, ranking member of the Finance Committee and co-author of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act also voted for my amendment. In total, 10 members of the Finance Committee who voted for my amendment also voted for the Fast Track bill. I cannot believe that we would have seen such a strong bipartisan vote from so many Senators who support Fast Track if this amendment were truly a poison pill.

“The Administration has recently said that this amendment would remove our ability to use our trade dialogue to encourage countries to take action on human trafficking. But I want the record to reflect the fact that trade negotiations with the United States have not improved most countries’ human trafficking performance. It is clear that years of engagement with Malaysia on this issue -- even with the ‘carrot’ of the TPP negotiations -- has not been enough to generate action from the Malaysian government.

“Of the 17 countries the U.S. has entered into trade agreements with since 2001 -- the first year of the TIP report – eight have not improved their TIP rankings since their trade deals entered into force, and three countries have actually had their TIP rankings downgraded after their trade deals entered into force. The facts are abundantly clear – free trade negotiations have never been a successful tool in encouraging other countries to improve their performance on combating human trafficking.

“Now I understand the Administration’s concerns over the effect of my amendment on the current TPP negotiations -- but I hope that, as the State Department finalizes the 2015 report, there is no undue influence to move countries around in order to benefit the Administration’s trade agenda. The integrity of the TIP report is at stake. And rest assured that Congress will provide the appropriate oversight to ensure that integrity. After all, in the State Department’s own words the TIP report, ‘is the U.S. Government’s principal tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking’. And furthermore, I now understand that the Administration is reaching out to human rights groups seeking compromise language that would address the concerns about human trafficking in our trade partners that I, and others, have spoken of. I am pleased that the Administration recognizes the validity of the Finance Committee’s position, and agrees that it is appropriate to address human trafficking in this trade bill.

“And I want to remind my colleagues, that the Fast Track trade negotiating authority is precisely the point at which Congress lays down the rules, the conditions, the principles, by which the Administration is granted our constitutional prerogative to negotiate international trade deals. Any suggestion that the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan statement of negotiating principles is an interference with the Administration’s prerogatives gets that constitutional relationship backwards. We set the terms. The Administration follows those terms in their negotiations. It is not our job to trim our principles to match the deal they have already negotiated.

“This goes to very heart of our Congressional duties, and to the heart of our Constitutional power over international trade. And I believe it goes to the heart of the debate over fast track authority itself that we have begun in the Finance Committee, and that we will soon engage on the Senate floor. Do we set the terms by which our trade powers are delegated to the Administration, or do they dictate the terms they will accept? Which brings me to the question of the trade bill we may be considering as early as tomorrow. We do not know whether the hard fought product of the Finance Committee will be respected. We do not know if a major trade preference package or long-awaited trade enforcement reforms will be included. When we are asked to vote on cloture tomorrow, will we still be voting for a blank piece of paper? That’s not good enough for me, and it should not be good enough for the United States Senate.

“So I hope that as we move forward to consider a Fast Track bill, my colleagues will bear in mind the importance of protecting the Senate Finance committee process, just as we should protect the process of every committee whose bills are brought to the Senate floor. That’s why I’m asking my colleagues to keep this amendment in the bill and help fight the scourge of modern slavery in the countries we trade with.

“The bill reported by the Finance Committee puts a strong emphasis on our need to match the actions we take on human trafficking at home, to those we take in the international arena. And while we all may not agree with the specifics of our trade policy, I hope that when the Fast Track bill comes to the floor, the Senate will stand together, reaffirming our commitment to holding our trading partners accountable for their lack of action on combating human trafficking.”