US senator sticking by 'poison pill' tweak to trade bill

WASHINGTON - US Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said on Monday he would strongly resist any attempt to override a human-trafficking amendment to trade legislation that some say could derail a Pacific trade pact.

The amendment, approved by the Senate Finance Committee last week, would disqualify trade deals with countries deemed soft on human trafficking from special procedures designed to speed their passage through Congress.

The list of offending countries includes Trans-Pacific Partnership member Malaysia. Experts say the amendment could eliminate the whole pact, which would link 12 countries and cover 40 per cent of the world economy, from streamlined treatment - a so-called poison pill.

Menendez, a leading foreign policy voice in Congress, said he would not go along with any attempts to water down the language. "You can go ahead and negotiate and if your partner gets themselves off of Tier 3 (in the State Department's report on human trafficking,) they can join the TPP," he told Reuters. "I haven't had any indication that anybody is trying to strip it out of the bill, which I would forcefully oppose. We had a strong bipartisan vote."

Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said he had not yet started discussing the amendments. "I think what happens in all of these instances when a bill gets out of committee, talk to your colleagues, try to look for common ground, and we just finished it last week so I haven't started" discussing it with others, Wyden said.