Trade, disarmament top agenda of SovietArgentine talks

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is meeting in Moscow this week with Ra'ul Alfons'in, the first Argentine President ever to visit the Soviet Union. The five-day visit, which began Monday, marks the growing significance of trade relations between the two countries. It also points to a new emphasis in Soviet foreign policy on closer ties with the more important capitalist-oriented developing countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Mr. Gorbachev is expected to make a reciprocal visit here during his Latin American tour next year.

The agenda for the Moscow talks, Mr. Alfons'in's aides say, includes international tensions, nuclear disarmament, and Central America, as well as bilateral trade issues.

The two leaders face some tough discussions as they try to deal with the huge trade imbalance between their countries. The Soviet Union's trade deficit with Argentina reached $1.6 billion in 1985.

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Moscow is now the principal buyer of Argentina's grains, and absorbs about one-third of its exportable goods. Argentina achieved this position in the early 1980s, following a US embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union. The embargo, since lifted, came in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Though the Soviet Union has fallen behind in this year's purchases of Argentine grain, its rejection of a United States offer of subsidized grains was seen here as a positive signal. The Soviet commercial attach'e in Buenos Aires said recently that the Soviet Union intends to honor the agreement signed last year to purchase 4.5 million tons of grains annually for the next five years.

At the same time, Moscow is looking to Buenos Aires to take steps to reduce its trade surplus, despite Argentina's $50 billion foreign debt. The Soviet Union's target is to raise its exports to $500 million, and Soviet economic planners are likely to agree to further growth in trade only if Argentina imports higher levels of Soviet goods.

Important multimillion dollar projects involving fishing in the South Atlantic, and Soviet participation in the dredging of Argentina's principal grain port at Bah'ia Blanca, the construction of hydroelectric dams, and the electrification of part of the Argentinian railroad system are being discussed at this week's talks.

However, Argentina's need to cut back on state spending as part of its anti-inflation plan may make it difficult for Alfons'in to follow through on the proposed projects. The Argentine economy is in serious difficulty, and tensions are increasing. The seventh one-day strike called by the General Confederation of Labor, a major trade union, since Alfons'in took office brought Buenos Aires to a halt last Thursday.

Although Argentina is pursuing stronger trade ties with the Soviet Union, at home Alfons'in's Radical Party government is distancing itself from the parties of the Argentinian left.

A new political initiative was launched by the President last week to establish a coalition to stabilize Argentina's democracy and to push bogged-down legislation through the congress. The initiative specifically excluded the Communist Party and other leftist parties from the coalition.

Still, Argentina, the third-largest country in Latin America, has played an increasingly important role on the international scene since restoration of democratic rule in 1983, though often at odds with the current US administration. It is a member of the Lima group of South American democracies. That organization actively supports the efforts of the Contadora group of Central American nations that is trying to resolve the conflicts in Central America.

Alfons'in is a founder of the Group of Six -- involving India, Sweden, Mexico, Tanzania, and Greece in addition to Argentina. The body was created in 1984 to promote nuclear disarmament.

Among the positions of the Group of Six are two that are especially in line with Gorbachev's own policy:

A call for an end to nuclear arms testing, and the welcoming of the Soviet moratorium on such testing that went into effect in August 1985.

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