COLUMBIA - Republican Senate candidate Jim DeMint took a jab at his Democratic opponent Friday as he praised Congress' approval of a new trade agreement with Australia.
Mr. DeMint, who is coming to the end of his third term in the House and voted for the legislation Wednesday, did not use Inez Tenenbaum's name but criticized her call for a moratorium on all new trade agreements until the economic effects are studied.
"I think that is just a call to leave the status quo in place, which is what's been hurting us as a state and a nation," Mr. DeMint said.
Trade is one of the biggest issues on which Mr. DeMint and Mrs. Tenenbaum disagree and likely will be a hot-button topic during the campaign to replace retiring Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C.
Mr. DeMint toured the 3M plant in Greenville on Friday to highlight a company that would benefit from the new trade deal with Australia. The plant produces adhesive tape sold around the world.
"The important thing for us to remember about South Carolina, that as a manufacturing state, our greatest opportunity is expanding world markets," Mr. DeMint said.
The deal, which would add Australia to the exclusive list of countries enjoying free trade relations with the United States, is awaiting President Bush's signature.
Its approval in Congress was a rare victory for free-traders in an election year when lawmakers are sensitive to pacts that might make American jobs vulnerable to foreign competitors.
Mrs. Tenenbaum supports free trade but wants the deals to be fair and enforced, said her spokeswoman, Kay Packett.
"She wants a very careful evaluation of the effect the agreement would have on South Carolina jobs," Ms. Packett said. "Inez has been very clear that she supports fair trade, but her first concern is to stop the hemorrhage of jobs in this state."
Mr. DeMint acknowledges South Carolina has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years to other countries because of deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We've taken our worst hit as a manufacturing state with doing business with nearby countries like Mexico, and now Mexico has become a huge customer of our textile products," he said.
New trade agreements give the United States access to growing world markets, Mr. DeMint said.
He said just the anticipation of the trade agreement with Australia has increased exports to the country in the past year, making Australia the 10th leading destination for South Carolina products.
"You don't say, 'We're going to have a moratorium on all trade agreements.' You need to look at them each individually," Mr. DeMint said.