Fishing boats, like the kind that traffickers use, are seen on the beach in Shamlapur, Bangladesh. (Photo by Shazia Rahman/Getty Images)

Bangladesh‘s decision to adopt an international treaty that binds countries to strict anti-trafficking measures could help it avoid U.S. sanctions, a U.N. official said on Wednesday.

Bangladesh has been on a U.S. State Department watchlist for the past three years over its record on human trafficking, putting it at risk of a downgrade that would trigger sanctions, limiting access to international aid.

On Sunday, the government announced it would adopt the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol on trafficking, which provides an international definition and guidelines on how countries should tackle the crime.

George McLeod, spokesman for the U.N. migration agency, said ratifying the treaty would improve Bangladesh‘s chances of avoiding a damaging downgrade “because its protocols factor prominently in the United States’ decision on this”.

“From a counter-trafficking perspective, Bangladesh is on the same page as other signatories,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The State Department said in its latest Trafficking in Persons report in June that Bangladesh did not fully meet its minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but was making significant efforts to do so.

It criticised the government for its failure to investigate several potential crimes of forced labour and sex trafficking against Rohingya refugees in the country.

The government said at the time it was working hard to resolve the problems raised.

An existing law passed in 2012 includes all the provisions of the U.N. treaty, including laying down strict penalties for traffickers.

But experts said these were poorly enforced and the conviction rate remained low.

They also said the government was not fulfilling its duty to provide help for victims’ rehabilitation, expressing hope the adoption of an international treaty would spur change.

“Once the protocol is signed, we will be more accountable to the international community and the government will have to ensure that the law is implemented properly,” said Shakirul Islam, head of migrant rights group Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program.