Washington — President Reagan once more preached the free-enterprise gospel to the world's leading finance ministers and central bankers Tuesday. Three years ago he had told a similar joint annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that those nations renouncing government regimentation and overspending, and restoring incentives ''to liberate the genius and spirit of our free people,'' would result in a dynamic, prosperous, progressive, and free society.
Yesterday he held that some nations have walked with the United States ''on this new path of hope and opportunity'' and are reaping the rewards.
With possibly one eye on his own reelection campaign, he spoke of a ''dramatically changed'' situation in the US. ''Rewarding hard work and risk-taking has given birth to an American renaissance,'' he said.
Besides outlining some details of the economic recovery in the US, Mr. Reagan defended American policy in regard to the developing countries. He noted that expansion in the US, the world's largest market, has meant increased trading opportunities for other nations.
''Total US imports rose 32 percent in the first half of this year, and for the full year, our imports are expected to exceed 1983 imports by over 25 percent,'' he said.
''US imports from the non-oil developing countries rose about 14 percent in 1983, and they're up by nearly 30 percent for the first half of 1984.'' The President added that imports from developing nations that are not members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) increased by more than $12 billion over the same period last year.
''By comparison, a 1 percent increase in interest rates would increase net interest payments by the non-OPEC LDCs (less-developed countries) by only about
A day earlier A. W. Clausen of the World Bank and Jacques de Larosiere of the IMF had made particularly strong attacks on growing protectionism.
Mr. Reagan vigorously defended his administration's stand on trade issues, noting that the US had turned down requests for protection on tuna, stainless steel flatware, shoes, and copper. He called last week's rejection of protectionist quotas and tariff relief for the steel industry a reaffirmation of the US commitment to an open trading system.
But Reagan did not refer to his pledge to seek voluntary quotas directly, but spoke only of ''vigorous action against unfair trade practices in steel that will prove to be in the best long-term interest of consuming and supplying nations alike.''
Some of those nations hurt by the new ''voluntary'' quotas may see the quotas in a different light.
Urging the developing countries to do more to welcome private investment, Reagan argued that they will have to rely less on loans that add to their debts.
The President's free-enterprise gospel received a much more favorable reception among finance ministers than it would have several years ago. They are aware that the developing nations that have performed best are those that have used free-market practices to a larger degree.
Reagan also affirmed US support for the World Bank and the IMF. The US has attempted to restrain the growth of the bank. But this is often misinterpreted as being anti-bank, and thus the President's words were welcome to the ministers. The speech also attempted to show American sympathy for the poorer countries.
''We don't want a world in which some nations go forward while others are left behind,'' he said. ''We want a world in which all go forward together.''