Thailand remained at Tier 3 - the lowest level - for another year in the US annual report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), with the State Department saying the government had not fully complied with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and was not making significant efforts to do so.
"Thailand investigated and prosecuted some cases against corrupt officials involved in trafficking, but trafficking-related corruption continued to impede progress in combating trafficking," the 2015 TIP report said. "The government decreased the number of investigations, prosecutions, convictions and victims identified in 2014."
Though the report acknowledged measures taken by the government, it also said that "the prosecution of journalists and advocates for exposing traffickers, and statements discouraging media reporting on trafficking crimes undermined some efforts to identify and assist victims and apprehend traffickers".
The report pointed out that though the government has made an effort to screen Rohingya migrants for trafficking indicators and has worked with NGOs to assist sex-trafficking victims, there was still a serious lack of interpreters for trafficking victims. And it had not proactively identified many trafficking victims among workers in the fishing industry or irregular migrants, it said.
Prior to the release of the report yesterday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared that his government had done its best to tackle human trafficking, but said he did not expect the United States to upgrade Thailand from Tier 3.
"I actually don't expect an upgrade from Tier 3 to Tier 2, as it takes time for government actions to bear fruit and for the entire system to change for the better. It won't take just one day, or one month or one year to do that," he said.
He added that the authorities have been trying to fight human trafficking since the country was downgraded from Tier 2 watch-list to Tier 3 last year. Prayut made the issue a national priority and launched a crackdown on groups trafficking Rohingya and other boat people. Police have also pinpointed senior security officials for alleged involvement.
Vallop Vitanakorn, vice chairman of the Thai National Shippers' Council, said there has been some progress since last year in the government efforts to solve the trafficking problem, especially in enforcing law.
Prinn Panitchpakdi, country head at CLSA Securities (Thailand), said the US was using the TIP report as part of "a big package" that will be used to bring Thailand into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks. Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam are already part of the talks on the controversial pact.
Malaysia, meanwhile, was upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 watch-list, because Kuala Lumpur is making "significant efforts to comply with minimum standard for eliminate trafficking", the report said.
Prinn explained: "The US [Senate] has given fast-track authority [to the White House] on the TPP talks since it deems this partnership to be one of its main trade strategies for the region.
"It wants to add more members to the TPP framework, which is seen as a US-led grouping to counter China's fast-growing control over trade and investment activities in this region."
Somkiat Triratpan, an inspector-general at the Commerce Ministry and director of the Policies and Trade Strategies Bureau, said the US report should not affect Thai exports as private enterprises had signed purchase orders in advance.
Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong, deputy managing director of Kasikorn Research Centre, said the Tier 3 ranking would continue to hurt the image of Thai exports, adding that the US did not take into account the government's measures and efforts.
"The latest report only applies to the government's actions prior to March, so efforts after the third month will be counted in next year's report, not this year," she said.