THE UNITED STATES has decided to remove Thailand from its list of worst human trafficking offenders, officials said, a move that could help improve the Kingdom’s international reputation and smooth relations between the two countries that has been cold since the military coup two years ago.
The upgrade, confirmed to Reuters by a US official in Washington and a Bangkok-based official from an international organisation with direct knowledge of the rankings, would mark a rare boost for US-Thai relations in recent times. Ties between the countries have languished since the Thai military seized power in a 2014 coup that Washington strongly condemned.
Many government officials declined to say whether they had advance information about the US evaluation on the human trafficking in Thailand but praised Washington if it had really decided to recognise their efforts.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said his government had mobilised its full capacity to tackle the human trafficking problem over the past two years. “If we really have been upgraded, it does not mean the government would lower its guard but we will continue the efforts to solve the problem,” he told reporters yesterday. “It is our national agenda to end human trafficking.”
The government had updated Washington in January and March to prove that it had done enough to be removed from the lowest ranking on the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which is due to be released today.
The report is expected to cite improvements in Thailand’s efforts to combat human trafficking, especially in its vital multibillion-dollar seafood industry, the US official said.
The upgrade would put Thailand on a so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” and remove it from the rating for countries with the worst human-trafficking records, known as Tier 3.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said that the upgrade, if really confirmed, would be the result of the hard work of the government to solve the problem, dismissing sceptics who believe the decision had to do with political developments in Thailand and bilateral relations.
The Migrant Workers Rights Network supported the US decision to upgrade Thailand in US annual Trafficking in Persons Report to Tier 2 Watchlist.
“Thailand has carried out some significant improvements in the past year, but it has a long way to go,” the network said in a statement. “A year on the Tier 2 watch list is when Thailand can show the international community its genuine commitment to address the trafficking issue.”
The most significant improvement was the Department of Employment’s new regulation to prevent outsourcing agents and subcontractors from bringing migrant workers into Thailand, following close consultations with the network.
Sirinart Chaimun, director-general to the Trade Negotiations Department, said if the US had really upgraded Thailand, it should have a positive psychological impact on Thailand and create a better image for Thai products, especially fishery products among American importers, retailers, and consumers.
In addition, a senior ministry source said that the US upgrading should not be linked to Thailand joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the future, as it was a result of the Kingdom’s serious attempts to crack down on human trafficking. Many agencies as well as private enterprises had hardly attempted to solve human trafficking during the past two years, the source said.
Vallop Vitanakorn, vice chairman to the Thai National Shippers Council, said it is a good signal that Thailand would be upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List as it will create good image for Thai products, mainly fishery products, sugarcane, and garments.
“The Thai government should still work on erasing consumer concerns about the problem of forced labour in the country,” he said.