The United States should only provide the rewards of trade deals to nations that share our values. If one wants special rights to export to American consumers, it should uphold human rights, labor rights, environmental protections and ensure that its products are safe.
So why was Malaysia rewarded with membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) while our own Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating the Malaysian government for stealing from its own citizens? Last week, the DOJ unveiled the largest state-sponsored embezzlement case of all time. The suit alleges that the Malaysian government stole from its citizens and laundered the loot in U.S. banks.
Rampant Government Corruption
Malaysian officials purportedly lined their own pockets with $3.5 billion from a government investment fund. They bought themselves luxury condos, artworks (including a Picasso) and even helped finance the film “The Wolf on Wall Street,” which ironically, is about rampant corruption and fraud. The DOJ is suing the Malaysian government for over $1 billion dollars for the portion of the theft that was laundered through U.S. banks.
This is the latest in a string of high-profile problems in Malaysia. The State Department has reported that human trafficking is widespread in Malaysia, including cases of women and children subjected to sex trafficking. An estimated 2 million people in Malaysia toil as unpaid, forced slave labor. In 2015, Malaysian authorities found 140 mass graves near the Thailand border containing hundreds of dead trafficking victims. Most grisly of all, most were shoveled into graves only after being worked to death.
For years, the State Department had ranked Malaysia in the worst tier for its failure to combat human trafficking. The United States cannot enter trade deals with regimes that don’t meet the minimum standards for combatting human trafficking (thank you Senator Menendez!), meaning Malaysia couldn’t join the TPP. But just before TPP negotiations wrapped up, the State Department upgraded Malaysia’s trafficking classification, allowing it to join the trade agreement. Coincidence? You be the judge.
Environmental Devastation and Unsafe Food Imports
There are plenty of environmental and food safety concerns with Malaysia’s TPP membership as well. Malaysia is already the world’s second largest palm oil exporter. Oil Palm plantations have “played a leading role in destroying carbon-capturing tropical forests,” according to the Sierra Club. The expansion of oil palm plantations has been the primary cause of the widespread destruction of carbon-rich Malaysian swamp forests.
The TPP would slash palm oil tariffs, accelerating exports and palm oil-driven deforestation that is devastating for endangered species. The spreading oil palm plantations in Malaysia, already “one of the greatest threats to orangutans,” is decimating the last few hundred Malayan tigers too and contributed to the extinction of the Sumatran rhino in Malaysia. The TPP could push Malaysia’s teetering tiger and orangutan populations closer to the rhino’s fate.
Malaysia’s fish farming industry is already shipping suspicious shrimp, and the TPP would just ramp up these seafood exports. Last year, the FDA banned shrimp exports from certain Malaysian regions because of widespread presence of unapproved and dangerous antibiotic drug residues. The red flag for consumers is that the discovered chemicals are banned in both Malaysia and the United States, but according to the Malaysian Star there was “no monitoring process to ensure these products meet the safety requirements of the countries they are exported to.” Since the FDA only inspects 2 percent of seafood imports, who knows how long these residues entered the U.S. food supply before they were detected.
Take action today to urge Congress to stand up for our values and vote down the TPP.
The TPP would increase the flow of imported seafood from fish farming powerhouses like Malaysia and Vietnam and further tax FDA’s limited inspection resources. Already American companies are itching to take advantage of the TPP to buy cheaper (and likely less safe) seafood. The parent company of Red Lobster’s supplier is building the world’s largest lobster farm in Malaysia — 23,000 acres with 12,000 workers — to produce 40 million pounds of lobster to export to back to the United States.
It’s all is a little mind-boggling. The political elite that negotiated and signed the TPP while the DOJ was tightening its net around these very Malaysian kleptocrats that coddle human traffickers. The TPP corporate power grab puts profits before our shared values. Take action today to urge Congress to stand up for our values and vote down the TPP.