WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) - A U.S. trade official said on Friday that the government is looking at a proposed human-trafficking amendment to trade legislation that could affect a still unfinished Pacific trade pact.
The amendment, approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, would disqualify trade deals with countries deemed soft on human trafficking from special procedures designed to speed their passage through Congress.
“We are looking at the language that passed,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Friday, speaking at an Export Import Bank conference in Washington.
National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch said if the change made it into the final version of the bill, it could exclude the whole Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact from streamlined treatment. The TPP is nearly complete.
“It’s a classic poison pill,” he said.
The problem arises because the 2014 list of human-trafficking offenders includes Malaysia, a partner in the TPP.
“Human trafficking is a very serious issue,” said Froman, “and we want to make sure that through the kind of engagements we have, through our trade dialogue, that we are able to encourage countries to take on further actions that they need to take.”
The USTR is working with the Department of Labor and the State Department, which is due to publish its next annual report on human trafficking in June, to consider the amendment drafted by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
The amendment, which passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 16-10 vote on Wednesday night with support from both parties, could still be knocked out or amended further down the legislative process.
The House of Representatives panel, which is working on a companion fast-track bill, excluded the change from its version of the bill, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said the change would make it very difficult for the administration in negotiating the TPP accord. (Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Ted Botha)