Trade Policy

Trade Policy

Today, the United States is negotiating trade agreements that are unprecedented in their ambition, size, and scope. Agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are endeavoring to align the global economy around a common set of rules, governing not just trade in goods but labor rights, intellectual property rights, financial regulations, and more. The future of American workers, businesses, and innovation depends on us getting the rules right.

In our increasingly global and interconnected world, trade is a powerful and vital tool. Done well—through high standards and carefully crafted rules—trade can open new markets for U.S. businesses, lift standards for workers in developing countries, protect our environment from climate change, and support a thriving middle class. Done poorly—by relying solely on market forces and hoping for the best—trade agreements can unleash a global race to the bottom.

As president, Governor O’Malley will support free trade agreements—but only those agreements that establish strong and enforceable rules for fair competition, creating opportunity for American workers while lifting standards in our partner nations.

The United States already has the leverage we need to meet this high standard, including in the TPP. Other nations sought to join the TPP in order to receive privileged access to the U.S. market. We should do everything in our power to assert a progressive trade agenda, rewarding countries with high labor and environmental standards—and encouraging those with weaker standards to make meaningful changes in order to join any trade deal.


As president, Governor O’Malley will support and negotiate global trade agreements only if they meet the following benchmarks. This includes the TPP, which after years of being negotiated in secrecy, will soon become public. Together, the following principles clearly define what it means for a trade agreement to be in the best interest of the United States. Agreements that meet these criteria will support American jobs, innovation, and businesses, while lifting standards in our partner nations and building a stronger global economy that works for everyone.

Going forward, every significant trade agreement negotiated by the United States should:


The TPP was written behind closed doors, with corporate lobbyists and other special interests sitting at the negotiating table—without adequate representation from labor, environmental, or consumer groups. In fact, the American people still don’t know what is in the agreement, because it is yet to become public, even though our representatives in Congress were forced to vote to rubber stamp it several months ago. But, because special interests are buying our elections and our democracy, they’re able to protect their special access to our trade agreements—making them into just one more way to rewrite the rules of our economy to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else.

As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Democratize Trade Negotiations. America’s leadership in the world demands that we make good, fair trade agreements. But we shouldn’t let the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their allies dictate the terms alone. Businesses big and small should be engaged in the writing of trade agreements, alongside and equal to labor unions, consumer groups, health and environmental advocates, and all others who have a stake in the outcome of a deal.


Nations that are part of the TPP—or are likely to join in the future—have artificially undervalued their currencies in the recent past, boosting their own exports by making them cheaper on the global market. Their actions have come at an enormous cost to U.S. manufacturers, causing thousands of factories to close and millions of American workers to lose their jobs.

We cannot afford to lose any more manufacturing jobs to countries that gain unfair advantages by breaking international rules. As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Prohibit Currency Manipulation in Global Trade Agreements. Currently, the Treasury has no clear definition of what constitutes currency manipulation and imposes no consequences for those who engage in it. Worse, currency manipulation is not addressed within the TPP.

    As president, O’Malley will take action to end currency manipulation. In agreements such as the TPP, he will clearly define currency manipulation—as a prolonged, one-way, large-scale foreign exchange intervention that prevents appreciation or forces a currency to depreciate—and prohibit all signatories from engaging in it. Then, if a country deliberately tries to depreciate its currency, it would lose its preferential access to the U.S. market and other privileges granted under the free trade agreement.

  • Hold Cheaters Accountable. Well-designed currency manipulation protections will not impede U.S. monetary policy or freely floating exchange rates. Rather, such provisions will prevent important trading partners from cheating, using their desire to join the TPP and other agreements as leverage to establish fair trade rules that are in the best interests of American workers and jobs.


Global trade agreements increasingly include a provision called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. This is a process that corporations use to sue—outside of the legal system—governments that seek to protect public and environmental health and the well-being of workers. And companies are now using this process to try to weaken or overturn regulations they don’t like more aggressively today than they ever have before.

As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Oppose ISDS in Trade Agreements. ISDS was designed 50 years ago to protect business investments in developing nations where corporations feared they would face discriminatory laws or have their assets expropriated. Today, ISDS is no longer necessary. Corporations that invest in uncertain markets can buy political-risk insurance to protect themselves against the possibility of a loss. And investors in the United States know they face no such legal risk. ISDS should not be included in the TPP agreement—and in past agreements, ISDS provisions must be revised.
  • Put Public Interests First. Corporations have abused ISDS, using it to ensure their interests always trump public ones. Through ISDS, they have challenged local laws that require safety warnings on cigarettes, limit mining and hydraulic fracking in sensitive areas, or reduce reliance on nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster. Eliminating ISDS, including from the TPP, is one of the most important ways to stop big business from using trade agreements to rewrite the rules of how our economy works” at the expense of workers and the public.


Countries that join the TPP or other free trade agreements gain better access to the U.S. market. The United States should reward only those nations that have robust labor standards in place—setting a high floor that encourages our trading partners to meaningfully and continuously improve conditions for their workers, creating high-paying and high-standard jobs. We should not be satisfied with trade deals that reinforce the status quo when our partners inadequately protect their workforce.

As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Protect Core Labor Rights. By assuring strong labor rights, the United States can leverage nations’ eagerness to join agreements to lift standards globally—while ensuring American companies are not be placed at a competitive disadvantage for paying higher wages and respecting their workers’ right to bargain. At a minimum, free trade agreements should guarantee freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain; uphold the rights of migrant workers; and prohibit forced labor, child labor, and employment discrimination. And for developing countries, free trade agreements should include a mechanism to ensure that labor rights and standards continue to meaningfully improve long after a deal is signed.
  • PSet and Enforce Meaningful Labor Standards. Strict oversight and enforcement—including regular compliance monitoring and tariff snap-back provisions when rules are violated—are fundamental to ensuring that labor rights are actually respected. In the past, toothless enforcement mechanisms have made the labor and environmental chapters of trade agreements meaningless. Going forward, we must get the rules precisely right.

    For the TPP, this means partner nations must change their laws before the agreement goes into effect. Consider Vietnam, which has never allowed workers to choose their own representatives; the country’s single labor union is controlled by the Communist Party. Or Mexico, where—despite promises made while negotiating NAFTA—freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain are severely limited. Both nations—as well as Brunei and Malaysia—will have to responsibly update their labor laws and practices in order to implement the TPP.

    In addition, the TPP and other trade agreements must have strong labor chapters that allow for labor abuses to be investigated and actively monitored, require that labor disputes be quickly resolved, and, when parties fail to remedy labor violations, provide for the benefits of trade agreements to be suspended. Finally, partner nations must have the resources, institutions, and political leadership in place to ensure full compliance.


The United States has entered free trade agreements in the recent past that provide little to no meaningful protection of our land, water, air, and wildlife. At best, the environmental chapters of these agreements have covered a broad range of topics—from whaling and wildlife trafficking, to deforestation and illegal fishing—while lacking language actually prohibiting nations from engaging in these activities. And no trade agreement has recognized or sought to counter the risks posed by climate change.

As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Ensure Real and Enforceable Environmental Standards. Even the best agreements are only as strong as our commitment to enforce them. But to date, the United States has never once brought a trade dispute against another nation for violating the environmental provisions of trade agreements. When our trading partners pollute and destroy the environment in misguided efforts to gain a competitive advantage, they should lose their benefits under trade deals.
  • Enforce Delivery of International Climate Commitments. Every TPP nation, with the exception thus far of Brunei, has made international commitments to the UNFCCC on curbing their emissions of carbon pollutants. The TPP should have made delivering on these commitments a condition of continued preferential access to U.S. markets.
  • Oppose ISDS in Any Agreement. If trade agreements allow for investor-state cases against governments, any potential benefits of environmental provisions could quickly be wiped out. That’s because corporations have overwhelmingly used ISDS to challenge regulations that protect our air, water, and climate. The best way to protect the environment through trade agreements is to ensure that they don’t include ISDS provisions from the start.


Increasingly, trade agreements are not about reducing traditional barriers to trade—trade in goods is already quite free—but rather about rewriting the rules of how the global economy works. This includes “harmonizing” between nations regulations governing corporations, banks, and pharmaceutical companies. As with ISDS, these industries often have an incentive to rewrite the rules in ways that weaken regulations and pad their own profits.

As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Protect the Dodd-Frank Financial Reforms in Trade Agreements. The biggest banks are already lobbying aggressively over the details of future trade agreements, particularly the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—a proposed deal between the United States and the European Union. It is very likely that they will try to use the agreement to undermine Dodd-Frank’s capital requirements and leverage ratios, derivative compliance rules, and other protections. If the largest players in the global financial industry win out, American banks could shift business to Europe (or even reincorporate some of their activities there)—where financial rules are much weaker than in the United States—in order to sidestep Dodd-Frank altogether.

    In addition, O’Malley will strongly oppose any trade provisions that would require new financial regulations to be screened (or even slowed down) based on how they might impact trade. No trade agreement should be used to delay implementation of important financial regulations against the public’s will.


The rules of any trade agreement must be written to ensure that benefits accrue to the nations that are party to them—limiting countries’ ability to take advantage of loopholes and impose non-tariff barriers to protect their domestic markets, at other nations’ expense.

As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Require Robust Rules Of Origin. When a nation grants trading partners preferential access to their market, they expect to receive the same treatment in return. Strong “rules of origin” protect this dynamic—strictly defining the extent to which inputs from countries outside an agreement can be incorporated into products that benefit from duty-free treatment. Such rules are especially vital to the U.S. automotive industry, because other nations—particularly Japan—import significant quantities of auto parts from outside the TPP bloc.

    All trade agreements should include rules of origin standards that meet or exceed those established under NAFTA. Reports indicating that the TPP includes weaker rules of origin are disconcerting.

  • Ensure Fair Market Entry for U.S. Products. It is inconsistent with the spirit of TPP and similar agreements to keep in place non-tariff barriers that effectively exclude U.S. products. This has been a salient issue in the past, and it is likely that the existing version of TPP does not move sufficiently far to remove all such barriers.


Many countries and non-profit organizations rely on affordable generic medicines to treat life-threatening diseases, including in TPP nations. Access to generic medicines depends on each nation’s laws and regulations, as well as trade and other international agreements, including rules governing intellectual property. As a result, the global community in the past has sought to ensure that countries can overcome barriers that restrict access to medicines—preventing patent monopolies from blocking life-saving care and providing for competition in the generic drug market. In this way, commercial interests are respected but not allowed to trump global public health concerns.

As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Balance Access and Innovation to Provide Needed Medicines. The United States must ensure that trade agreements do not place onerous restrictions on the use of new medicines by partner nations, particularly in low-income countries. These medicines and treatments are a major American contribution to the world. It is critical that we provide access to needed medicines, even as we establish strong intellectual property protections that allow for pharmaceutical innovation and progress. While the TPP agreement takes steps in a better direction, we must carefully review the final agreement to ensure that it takes the right approach.


While trade agreements can open markets for American goods and services and create wealth around the world, they have often done so unequally—further concentrating wealth among a small number of corporations and investors at the expense of everyone else. This has happened both because past trade agreements have failed to guard against a global race to the bottom—and because the United States has failed to enact commonsense policies to help American workers and businesses thrive in a globalized world.

As a nation, we can do far more to boost our competitiveness, seizing new opportunities to create jobs, drive investment, and lift incomes for all families. As president, Governor O’Malley will:

  • Tie Trade Agreements to Investments in the U.S. Economy. O’Malley will work with Congress to ensure that free trade agreements are forged in concert with policies that help the middle class and advance our own economic competitiveness—such as raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration reform, and making robust investments in our nation’s infrastructure.
  • Ensure That U.S. Corporations are Taxed Fairly, Including on Their Global Activities. It has become too easy for very large U.S. corporations to shift the reporting of their global activities – solely to reduce their tax burden. These corporations, their executives, and their owners benefit from the laws and resources of the United States – including the public goods that we provide. The only way to sustain these public goods—and the functioning of our government—is with a fair revenue system that includes fair taxes on corporations. Governor O’Malley will be putting forward his plans to reform the tax code in the coming weeks and months.

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