Exclusive: U.S. upgrades Malaysia in annual human trafficking report - sources
By Jason Szep, Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centers, U.S. sources said on Wednesday, a move that could smooth the way for an ambitious U.S.-led free-trade deal with the Southeast Asian nation and 11 other countries.
The upgrade to so-called "Tier 2 Watch List" status 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 U.S. human trafficking ranking in the eyes of the U.S. 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 State Department last year downgraded Malaysia in its annual "Trafficking in Persons" report to Tier 3, alongside North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe, citing "limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime" and other problems.
But a congressional source with knowledge of the decision told Reuters the administration had approved the upgraded status. A second source familiar with the matter confirmed the decision.
Some U.S. 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.
This year's full State Department report, including details on each country's efforts to combat human trafficking, is expected to be released next week. Continued...