By John Whitesides and Caren Bohan
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Democratic presidential rivalsBarack Obama and Hillary Clinton courted industrial workers inPennsylvania on Monday with promises to crack down on Chinesetrade and currency policies they said were hurting U.S.companies.
In separate appearances at a manufacturing forum, the twocandidates said Republican President George W. Bush had been abystander while China took advantage of unfair trade practices.
Obama, an Illinois senator, said as president he wouldthreaten to limit Chinese access to the U.S. market as abargaining tool to force Beijing to quit manipulating itscurrency.
"What we need to do is just be better bargainers and say'Look, here's the bottom line: You guys keep on manipulatingyour currency, we are going to start shutting off access tosome of our markets,'" Obama told the Alliance for AmericanManufacturing forum in Pittsburgh.
Clinton proposed a series of steps to strengthen U.S. tradeenforcement and crack down on Chinese trade policies that shesaid were driving up the trade deficit.
"When they violate trade rules they should be heldaccountable," said Clinton, a New York senator. "We have doneso much over the last seven years to advantage China to ourdetriment."
Obama and Clinton are contending for the Democraticnomination to face Republican John McCain in November'spresidential election.
Both Democrats have emphasized efforts to protect U.S. jobsahead of their April 22 showdown in Pennsylvania, the nextbattleground in the race and a state hard-hit by the loss ofmanufacturing jobs.
OBAMA: BUSH A 'PATSY'
The two Democrats told the crowd of steelworkers and otherindustrial union members that Bush had failed to protect U.S.jobs. Obama said Bush, whose administration has opposedattempts by the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to forceChina to revalue its currency, was a tough-talking "patsy" ontrade negotiations.
"America and the world can benefit from trade with China.But trade with China will only be good for you if China itselfplays by the rules and acts as a positive force for balancedworld growth," said Obama, who drew a stronger ovation from thelabour crowd than Clinton.
Clinton said she would aggressively use World TradeOrganization mechanisms to challenge unfair trading practices,take steps to crack down on piracy issues and move to providerelief to U.S. companies hurt by surges of Chinese imports.
"We can't rely on the whims of the Bush administration tosupport U.S. manufacturers," she said.
"That's why I'm calling for changing our laws to send Chinaand other non-market economies a simple message: If yousubsidize your exports and hurt our manufacturing, you'll paythe price," she said.
Trade issues have been in the spotlight in the Democraticrace as Obama and Clinton have appealed for labour backing bypromising to renegotiate the unpopular North American FreeTrade Agreement and to oppose the Colombia Free TradeAgreement.
Advisers to both candidates landed in trade controversies.An Obama adviser reportedly told the Canadian government theIllinois senator did not mean his NAFTA talk, while top Clintonstrategist Mark Penn was demoted for working on behalf of theColombian government to promote the trade pact.
A union member noted Clinton's husband, former PresidentBill Clinton, had signed off on NAFTA without fixingenvironmental and labour provisions that angered some unions.He asked whether Clinton was going to trick unions again.
"As smart as my husband is, he does make mistakes," shesaid.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Paul Eckert;Editing by Bill Trott)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visitReuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online athttp:blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)