The release of an annual U.S. State Department’s report later this week will have ramifications for the fight against human trafficking in Taiwan.

The State Department describes the report as the U.S. government’s “principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking” and “the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.”

The report places each country in one of three tiers based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to meet international standards for combatting trafficking.

For better or worse, the State Department’s ranking is influential, holding weight with policy makers around the world.

For countries where trafficking has been a major problem, like Taiwan, being rated in the lower tiers had in the past been important; being in the international spotlight helps sharpen the focus of policy makers, paving the way for stronger legislation and better resourcing for anti-human trafficking efforts.

However, a move up the rankings can be misinterpreted as "problem solved" and can take the pressure off politicians and officials, and result in highly competitive government funding be diverted to other places.

According to grassroots advocates, the interest of officials in Taiwan, a Tier 1 country since 2010, to tackle trafficking problems has started to wane in recent years.

Advocates are concerned that despite continued evidence that the trafficking problem is changing and in some areas getting worse, the government has shaved the budget of the National Immigration Agency (NIA) and other related agencies, as well as avoiding continued regulatory reform.

These groups have serious complaints about Taiwan’s current policing of trafficking. They say the judicial system is toothless in its application of trafficking laws and that prosecutors are reluctant to use existing anti-trafficking laws and instead pursue cases under softer immigration regulations. Police have been criticized for focusing on lower level crimes, which are easier to gain a successful conviction, rather than targeting larger syndicates which, they fear, are operating unchecked. They also point to a growing trafficking crisis in the fishing industry.

Of course, a high ranking is not intended to have this perverse effect. As the report itself says, just because a country is Tier 1, “It does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem.” Tier 1 instead indicates “a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking, made efforts to address the problem, and complies with the TVPA’s minimum standards.”

The report is often critical of Tier One countries, and in Taiwan’s case the U.S. has continued to identify areas that need to be looked at.

But in a sign of the diverging view between officials and NGO workers, the government last November penned a 23-page response to the State Department, where it disputed the report's criticism of Taiwan.

Edited by J. Michael Cole