If they win control of Congress in Tuesday's elections, Democrats say they will fight the trade policies of President George W. Bush's administration that they blame for undermining workers' rights here and abroad and for exporting American jobs.

At stake are trade agreements the Bush administration has negotiated with Vietnam and Peru that still need congressional approval, as well as agreements still in the works with Colombia, South Korea and Malaysia. Democrats also want to remedy a soaring trade deficit of almost $70 billion (euro55 billion) linked to what critics call China's unfair trade policies.

"One of the issues in the elections is the loss of jobs in this country from trade policies that are harmful to American workers," said Democratic National Committee communications director Karen Finney. If Democrats regain power in Congress, they will make sure trade policies "don't hurt American workers."

Republican National Committee spokesman Josh Holmes said Democrats hold an "increasingly isolationist view" and that Republicans believe free trade creates more jobs for Americans, especially higher paying jobs.

Economist Peter Morici sees China's trade policies as the biggest issue, and one where Democratic views coincide with European concerns.

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"Europeans are at their wit's end," Morici said, about China's manipulation of its currency, its subsidized exports and its tariffs on imports — all measures that he said give China an unfair trade advantage that the Bush administration has not challenged directly.

While voter dissatisfaction with Bush, his handling of the Iraq war and a string of Republican scandals figures in campaigns nationwide, trade issues come sharply into focus in key states where manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

In Michigan, for example, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow has made Bush administration trade policy a campaign issue, saying it has hurt the economy of the manufacturing state.

In New York state, Democratic challenger Jack Davis has pinned most of his campaign to unseat Republican Congressman Thomas Reynolds on opposition to free trade agreements that he argues are killing American industry and jobs.

In Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown has blamed the loss of 200,000 Ohio manufacturing jobs on outsourcing facilitated by a slew of free trade agreements. His opponent, 12-year Republican Senator Mike DeWine says job losses are unrelated to free trade and accuses Brown of protectionism.

Those and other races that may turn on economic issues are increasingly important to Republicans as they struggle to hold onto control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Democrats hope to pick up the 15 House seats and six Senate seats they need to control Congress; all 435 in the House and 33 in the 100-member Senate are up for a vote.

Major trade bills that could come before Congress even before the newly elected members take their seats in January include the U.S-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. A package of trade preferences covering the Andean region and Africa also may come up then.

Important trade issues for next year include agreements nearing completion with Colombia and being negotiated with South Korea and Malaysia. Negotiations within the World Trade Organization are ongoing, and the Trade Promotion Authority needed to move agreements through Congress expires in June.

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business organization, Nicole Venable, director of international trade and global competitiveness, said there is broad public support for trade in general, but necessarily for each trade agreement.

"There is a lot of angst about China," Venable added. Manufacturers are worried about whether they can compete.

At the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation and a traditional Democratic ally, the concern is lost jobs.

"We've lost about three million manufacturing jobs in the last five years" as factories have closed or moved to other countries, said Thea Lee, the AFL-CIO chief international economist. She sees "a real populist economic message" in these elections, with many Democrats campaigning on a fair trade platform.

"Fair trade is different from what we have now," Lee said. "It emphasizes workers rights and environmental protection rather than protection for multinational corporations."

Protections for workers' rights must cover workers in other countries, not just the United States, Lee added.

Under a Democratic Congress, some trade agreements may not pass, Lee said. For example, the agreements with Peru and Colombia are problematic because of limitations on workers' rights there.

"Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists," she said, with more than 2,000 unionists killed over the past 16 years.

Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland business school, said China is the big issue now along with a ballooning trade deficit that "translates into lost jobs in manufacturing."

"Look for the Democrats to pressure the president on tariffs if China doesn't stop manipulating its currency and subsidizing exports," he said. But do not expect major changes in U.S.-European Union trade relations.

"The labor movement is inherently protectionist in the United States. The Democratic Party is not," he said.

Venable, at the Chamber of Commerce, said a Democratic Congress would seek to advance its views on labor and the environment, even though provisions for both already are included in trade agreements.

But, if Democrats take charge of Congress and put their stamp on trade negotiations, "maybe trade will be easier to do because most Democrats wouldn't have reasons to oppose trade."

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