US to Upgrade Thailand in Annual Human Trafficking Report

US to Upgrade Thailand in Annual Human Trafficking Report
US to Upgrade Thailand in Annual Human Trafficking Report

The United States has decided to remove Thailand from its list of worst human trafficking offenders, officials said, a move that could help smooth relations with Bangkok’s military-run government.

The upgrade, confirmed to Reuters by a US official in Washington and a Bangkok-based official from an international organization with direct knowledge of the rankings, would mark a rare boost for US-Thai relations.

Ties between the countries have flat-lined since the Thai military seized power in a 2014 coup that Washington strongly condemned.

Bangkok has protested publicly to Washington that it should be removed from the lowest ranking on the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, which is due to be released on Thursday.

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.

Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman for the Thai premier’s office, said the upgrade shows Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had stuck to his pledge to fight human trafficking in response to international criticism.

“The international community will see that what the prime minister told the international community he would do, he did,” Sansern told Reuters.

Thai Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said the upgrade to Tier 2 Watch List did not mean Thailand will stop tackling trafficking issues.

The report organizes countries into tiers based on trafficking records: Tier 1 for nations that meet minimum US standards; Tier 2 for those making significant efforts to meet those standards; Tier 2 “Watch List” for those that deserve special scrutiny; and Tier 3 for countries that are not making significant efforts.

Thailand was downgraded to the lowest ranking in June 2014 just weeks after the military seized power.

Thai officials were incensed last year when Malaysia was upgraded from Tier 3 but Thailand was not, and even human rights advocates agreed that Bangkok had made a greater effort to curb human trafficking than Kuala Lumpur had.

In this year’s report, the State Department has opted to keep Malaysia at the higher ranking it received last year, according to the US official.