Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday brushed aside claims the US has kept Thailand on Tier 3 in its latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report because Thailand declined to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact.
He made the comment as international accusations flew that the TIP rankings were influenced by politics and economic interests.
"Don't blame them. Don't blame politics or anything. There's no point. We have accepted [the ranking]...because it is our fault. They have rules and regulations," he said.
"Past governments had not solved the problem. When the US decides to punish, so be it," Gen Prayut said.
- Oped comment: Stop blaming the report
He said it is unfair to blame the current government for not doing enough to tackle human trafficking. It had convicted more than 100 traffickers in recent months, as its anti-trafficking drive stepped up.
He stressed the government is determined to do its best to address the problem, and Thailand and the US will remain friends whatever happens.
If the two countries get into a conflict over the issue, things will only get worse and the US may refuse to improve Thailand's ranking in the future.
The government needs to convince Washington it has been working hard to tackle trafficking, though it might also have to show that Thailand has its dignity, Gen Prayut said.
The TIP report, issued in the US on Monday, has come under fire from US lawmakers and human rights advocates after it upgraded Malaysia and Cuba from Tier 3, the lowest level, but kept Thailand at its present Tier 3 ranking.
Malaysia's upgrade from Tier 3 to Tier 2 comes at a time when it is involved in negotiations over the TPP, a key regional trade pact which the US hopes it will join. Meanwhile, Cuba's upgrade coincides with its decision to normalise relations with the US.
Regarding the TPP, Gen Prayut said the previous government expressed a willingness to join the regional trade pact, but the current government has decided to delay any decision.
It found that joining TPP would do the country more harm than good, particularly in matters relating to drug patents.
Deputy Defence Minister and army chief Udomdej Sitabutr declined to comment on whether the TIP rankings were politicised, but said Thailand regards every country as a friend and maintaining relations with them is important.
The government is cracking down on influential figures and officials involved in human trafficking, Gen Udomdej said.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said revisions aimed at improving the 1999 Anti-Human Trafficking Law are ready to go to the National Legislative Assembly for consideration. Mr Wissanu said the Criminal Court will open new divisions on Aug 10 dealing specifically with human trafficking, drugs and corruption cases.
Royal Police Office spokesman Pol Lt Gen Prawuth Thawornsiri said he believed the US's decision to keep Thailand on Tier 3 was "part of global politics".
The US uses the Tier ranking to pressure countries that have different views from it, he said.