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Obama presses China on currency in trade speech

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama pressed China on Thursday to move to a "more market-oriented exchange rate" in a speech where he laid out a plan to boost U.S. exports in the coming years.

"As I've said before, China moving to a more market-oriented exchange rate would make an essential contribution to that global rebalancing effort," Obama said in the text of a speech.

"We all need to rebalance. Countries with external deficits need to save and export more. Countries with external surpluses need to boost consumption and domestic demand," he said.

Obama's rare comment about the currency comes as his administration faces a decision over whether to label China a

"currency manipulator" in a semiannual Treasury Department report due on April 15.

Such a decision would risk harming U.S.-China relations, which have already become tense over Obama's meeting last month with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

U.S. businesses say China's currency is undervalued and puts them at a big competitive disadvantage.

Obama, who has pledged to double U.S. exports over five years, said that goal was critical to create jobs.

"In a time when millions of Americans are out of work, boosting our exports is a short-term imperative," he said.

"When other markets are growing, and other nations are competing, we need to get even better. We need to secure our companies a level playing field," he said.

The president repeated his administration's intention to work on outstanding trade agreements, including the long-stalled global pact known as the Doha Round.

"We'll continue to work toward an ambitious and balanced Doha agreement - not just for the sake of any agreement, but for one that enhances market access for American agriculture, goods, and services," he said.

"We'll strengthen relations with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, with the goal of moving forward with existing agreements in a way that upholds our values."

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Caren Bohan and Steve Holland)

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