The US should make the promotion of human rights in Vietnam a priority in talks over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, politicians say.

A bipartisan letter to President Obama, signed by Democrat Mike Michaud and Republican Chris Smith – plus a number of their colleagues – expresses “deep concern” over Vietnam’s human rights record.

The letter pinpoints the country’s attitude to civil and political rights, labour rights and religious freedoms as in particular need of improvement.

It also requests an explanation of the inclusion of Vietnam in the TPP talks and an assessment of the changes the administration expects to see in return for the trade benefits granted under the agreement.

The TPP should not be implemented with Vietnam, the politicians say, until the country’s people are allowed to fully exercise their fundamental civil, political, labour and religious rights.

“Improving Vietnam’s commitment to human rights should be a top policy priority of the United States,” the letter says.

“We understand the Administration believes the TPP negotiations represent an opportunity to address some of these issues.

“We are sceptical, however, that meaningful improvement can be made unless Vietnam’s participation is contingent upon tangible improvement on the ground and the verifiable confirmation that they have fully met the high standards in the agreement.”