The discovery of scores of graves in people-smuggling camps in Malaysia is casting a shadow over President Barack Obama’s signature trade deal as U.S. lawmakers consider punishing trading partners that are soft on human trafficking.
Just as Obama’s drive to win “fast-track” trade negotiating authority for the deal entered its most sensitive stage in the U.S. Congress, Malaysian police announced the discovery of 139 graves in jungle camps used by suspected smugglers and traffickers of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
“This new information is very alarming,” Senator Robert Menendez told Reuters, referring to the burials in the Southeast Asian country, which would be a signatory to a massive Pacific trade pact that Obama wants to complete this year.
When Menendez, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was asked if he still supported a compromise that he helped craft that would let Malaysia and other countries appearing on a U.S. black list for human trafficking participate in fast-tracked trade deals under certain circumstances, the senator said: “I’d like to try if it’s possible to keep it as it is.”
A spokesman said he is not opposed to the substance of his compromise, although he prefers the original language.
That compromise would have replaced Menendez’s language, currently in a Senate-passed bill pending in the House of Representatives, that would bar from fast-tracked trade deals Malaysia and all other countries that earn the worst U.S. human trafficking rankings.
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