By Patpicha Tanakasempipat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has stepped up prosecutions for human trafficking and hopes its status will be upgraded in the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons report, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
The report, which ranks countries based on anti-trafficking efforts, matters to Thailand's junta as it tries to fully normalize relations with Washington and to show it is tackling tough issues better than previous civilian administrations.
Last year, Thailand's status was upgraded a notch to Tier 2 "Watch List". It had been downgraded to the lowest level, Tier 3, after a 2014 coup.
"We believe that any government would have a good feeling about, or even admire, what we have done," Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told a news conference. "We certainly are hopeful we'll be viewed favorably."
In 2016, Thailand investigated 333 cases, prosecuted 301 people and convicted 268, he said. In last year's TIP report, Thailand reported investigating 317 cases, prosecuting 242 people, and convicting 241.
The military government has vowed to crack down on human trafficking, particularly in Thailand's multi-billion-dollar seafood industry.
But rights groups say millions of migrant workers remain vulnerable to abuse in fishing, the sex trade and other industries.
Don did not expect any change in U.S. emphasis on the importance of fighting human trafficking under new President Donald Trump, but said it would remain a priority for Thailand anyway.
"We'll keep on as we have done," he said.
Thailand submitted its report on anti-trafficking efforts for the year 2016 to the United States on Tuesday. The U.S. State Department's TIP report usually comes out in June.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel)