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Obama's Democrats call for trade policy overhaul

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some of President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats urged him on Wednesday to abandon the Doha round of global trade talks and start over with an agenda to protect labor rights and environmental standards.

"We believe the Doha round should be declared dead," Representative Michael Michaud, the chairman of a working group of U.S. lawmakers on trade issues, said at a news conference.

The group is deeply skeptical of the free trade agenda that has dominated U.S. policy in recent years, saying it has cost the United States many manufacturing jobs. Members say they are still waiting for Obama to keep campaign promises to reform U.S. trade policy to be more protective of American workers.

Michaud said that 127 fellow lawmakers -- close to half the U.S. House of Representatives' Democratic caucus -- had joined him in co-sponsoring legislation to require a comprehensive review of the economic impact of existing trade deals before any new ones are agreed.

The administration should start trying to reshape the World Trade Organization instead of expanding it next week at a three-day WTO ministerial conference in Geneva, the lawmakers said.

"This is our opportunity to start over, to leave behind the failed Bush trade model and develop a new framework that respects the environment, labor rights and our domestic workers," said Representative Louise Slaughter, the powerful Democratic chairwoman of the House Rules Committee.

The long-running Doha round of world trade talks launched in 2001 aims to dismantle barriers to global trade, in part to help less developed nations gain access to markets.

Obama has moved slowly on trade while pushing more forcefully on domestic concerns like healthcare reform and climate change legislation.

Trade has been a focus of his current trip to Asia, and he said in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday he wants to iron out remaining issues with South Korea on a stalled free trade pact.

But Slaughter said that when Obama returns from Asia, she hoped he would have a better understanding of the needs of American workers and not simply "open our markets continually to their goods."

"They have built their economy on our backs," she said of the Chinese.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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