East bloc still eyes US trade

Three East European countries just visited by a congressional trade review mission all indicated hope that their own commercial exchanges with the US will not be affected by the latter's economic reprisals against the Soviet Union over its Afghanistan action.

The delegation -- headed by Rep. Charles A. Vanik (D) of Ohio -- visited Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria in a Jan. 11-15 tour.

American trade with all three has increased substantially in the last few years, and the mission found each ready and eager for more.

The most rapid expansion has been with Romania, which of the three is the most involved in the free-emigration requirement of American most-favored-nation tariff treatment.

Romania's performance on this count is giving greater satisfaction than hitherto, and after the Vanik group talked with President Nicolae Ceausescu, its members expressed the view that trade now running at about $1 billion annually could go far beyond that in the next few years.

With Hungary, trade has almost doubled since the return to Budapest of the historic Crown of King Stephen and the subsequent grant of most-favored-nation status. Its economic system and its interest in joint ventures with Western investors are seen as offering interesting openings for medium and small business concerns.

Bulgarian trade with the US has also progressed and would develop still more with most-favored-nation status.

Before World War II and for the first few years after, Bulgaria enjoyed this treatment especially for a big tobacco export. But this was withdrawn as a result of the Sofia government's unremitting hostility to the US.

Since the early 1970s the Bulgarians have been interested in its renewal and have shown a relatively open- minded approach toward broader economic links and cooperation with the West generally.

Like Hungary, Bulgaria is not significantly affected by the free-emigration issue. So far as the US is concerned, there would be no great difficulty in making the tariff concession to Sofia.

Even so, the latter, with its total conformity to Soviet foreign policy, includes loyal support of Moscow's rejection of a trade agreement with the US while the emigration question is tied to it.

So far as Russia is concerned. Afghanistan has put the matter still further off. "Many of us were hopeful [most-favored-nation status] might be extended to the Soviet Union." Mr. Vanik said in Budapest, "but I believe that [because of Afghanistan] now goes on the back burner for the immediate future."

Mr. Vanik said also that the US had wanted to follow an evenhanded policy with Russia and China but now, subject to present congressional consideration. China is likely soon to be granted most-favored-nation treatment.

The Bulgarians have no reservations about backing Moscow over Afghanistan. Nonetheless, even without the tariff prerogatives, they remain keen to push up trade and economic ties with the US.

They already make the two cola drinks under license and have just concluded a contract with Pepsi for a chain of Pizza Huts round the country. They also have adopted American "seed to can" techniques in agriculture introduced to them by the Chicago Food Machinery Corporation.

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