Remember, passing Fast Track in the Senate was supposed to be the easy part. Not only did Fast Track get rejected on its first try — “Welcome aboard the S.S. Lame Duck, Mr. President!” — now we get this. Ryan Grim explains:
The Senate approved a bill to “fast-track” trade agreements negotiated by the president. The agreement will prevent Congress from amending or filibustering Obama’s controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP deal would have a hard time surviving without fast-track authority.
But a key crackdown on human trafficking survived the legislative jujitsu. The White House considers the provision a deal-breaker, as it would force one of the nations involved in the TPP talks — Malaysia — out of the agreement.
From the US State Department:
Malaysia (Tier 3 [the worst]) is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are among the estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia.
Foreign workers typically migrate willingly to Malaysia from other countries in Asia—primarily Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, and Laos—in search of greater economic opportunities.
Here I pause to note that somebody decided that it would be a good idea for the US to take in the Rohingya, the Muslim boat people who have turned to traffickers to escape a slow motion Burmese genocide, after which the Malaysians offered temporary, one-year status to such Rohingya as actually reach their shores.
Some of the migrants subsequently encounter forced labor or debt bondage at the hands of their employers, employment agents, or informal labor recruiters. Many Malaysian recruitment companies, known as “outsourcing companies,” recruit workers from foreign countries. Contractor-based labor arrangements of this type—in which the worker may technically be employed by the recruiting company—create vulnerabilities for workers whose day-to-day employers generally are without legal responsibility for exploitative practices. In some cases, foreign workers’ vulnerability to exploitation is heightened when employers neglect to obtain proper documentation for workers or employ workers in sectors other than that for which they were granted an employment visa. In addition, a complex system of recruitment and contracting fees, often deducted from workers’ wages, makes workers vulnerable to debt bondage. A Malaysian government policy implemented in January 2013 that places the burden of paying immigration and employment authorization fees on foreign workers, rather than the employers, increased this risk.
(Sounds like the sort of labor market that only a neo-liberal could love, but I digress.) So, yes, the anti-trafficking provision — assuming it has teeth, and Malaysia can’t slip by with a wink and a promise — is indeed a poison pill; Malaysia can’t possibly qualify. The administration doesn’t like that, arguing that will push Malaysia into the open arms of the Chinese, with whom the Thai junta is already flirting, but I suppose if push came to shove, Obama could throw Malaysia under the bus. More pertinent is the procedural roadblock the Menendez amendment throws in Fast Track’s way. Back to Ryan Grim:
The slavery provision’s survival means that the House will either need to amend the bill and send it back to the Senate, which would cause a delay and complicate the House debate, or pass a bill and go to conference with the Senate, also causing a delay. It also potentially could be fixed in separate legislation otherwise moving through Congress. But time is not on the side of advocates of the trade agenda, as summer recess is approaching, followed by a heated presidential campaign season. “It leaves a substantial problem that no one’s sure how will be addressed,” said one senator.
Complicating any efforts to “fix” the bill, however, is the possibility of an alliance between feminist factions in the Democratic party, and Christianist factions among the Republicans, both of whom take strongly principled positions on human trafficking.
To read the full story by Lambert Strether: Click Here