The Anti-Trafficking Trade Act Helps the U.S. to Fight Trafficking

Yesterday[1/16], Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Portman (R- OH) introduced the Anti-Trafficking Trade Act, a bill to prevent countries failing to meet the minimum standards for combating human trafficking from receiving preferential trade benefits. The bill utilizes economic incentives to get countries to implement and enforce anti-trafficking measures that meet the standards outlined in the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act (TVPA).

The United States defines these minimum standards as a legal prohibition against trafficking, sustained government efforts to eliminate it, and stringent punishments for perpetrators as a deterrence and to reflect the serious nature of the crime. The State Department annual Trafficking in Persons report monitors and reports on the progress of governments around the world to meet these standards, issuing a ranking of Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3.

Countries given the lowest ranking, Tier 3, fail to comply with the minimum standards and are failing to make any effort to do so. When determining placement, the report looks to the extent of these failures and how complicit the government is in severe forms of trafficking.

The Anti-Trafficking Trade Act changes the eligibility requirements for countries using the generalized system of preferences (GSP), a program that designates some of the world’s poorest countries as needing trade benefits to encourage economic growth. Under the GSP, designated beneficiaries can export certain goods duty-free to the United States, increasing their GDP and diversifying U.S. trade.

Current law prohibits certain countries and types of governments from qualifying. Under Menendez and Portman’s bill, any country that does not actively work to prohibit and eliminate trafficking would have its GSP eligibility and benefits suspended for one year. However, the bill does allow for exemptions when countries have acted to implement the TVPA’s principal recommendations and can provide concrete evidence. The bill also requires countries to promote workers’ rights and show support for the rule of law.

Trade relations are a powerful diplomatic tool that should be used to spotlight the problem of modern slavery and apply pressure on trade partners to combat human trafficking. This bill does not end trade relationships between Tier 3 countries and the United States, but rather makes countries with poor responses to human trafficking ineligible for special trade benefits, allowing the United States to leverage the financial benefits of GSP membership to encourage better policies in countries with the most egregious failures to address modern slavery.

Countries with a Tier 3 ranking on the TIP report are subject to non-humanitarian and non-trade related sanctions both from the U.S. and international financial institutions, although the president has the power to waive these sanctions. The Anti-Trafficking Trade Act would be a major step in increasing accountability on human trafficking issues within U.S. trade policy, as GSP benefits provide duty-free entry for over 4,800 products from 129 countries worldwide.

We urge Congress to leverage the purchasing power of the United States to improve efforts to combat human trafficking and pass this bill.

By Meggie Weiler

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