U.K. export picture has bright spots

Although there are few signs of an upturn in the British economy, a number of exporters are managing to compete strongly with overseas competitors for major contracts.

Balfour Beatty, for instance, in conjunction with Canada's Dominion Bridge company, has won a (STR)38 million ($65 million) contract for Indonesia's Tarahan coal terminal. The Glasgow-based Weir company, a major exporter of desalination plants to the Middle East, has invented a revolutionary pump that may save oil drillers (STR)1 million on deep wells.

Developed with support from British Petroleum, the Department of Energy, and the nationalized British National Oil Corporation, the new pump unit is easier to handle than its predecessors and far less subject to wear and tear. Weir's invention has been proved at 2,000 feet underground, and it might be of great use in third-world countries seeking cheaper methods of sinking deep water wells.

Another company with large interests in British newspapers and North Sea oil, the International Thomson Organisation, is adding to its North American publishing businesses by prospecting for oil and gas in Canada. The Thomson company recently sold The Times of London and moved the center of its operations back to its home base in Canada.

Part of the reason for Thomson's substantial withdrawal from Great Britain is believed to have been the sluggish economy. Figures recently issued by the General Council of British Shipping, a good indicator of trading activity, show the nation's merchant ships carried less cargo last year than in 1980.

UK ships earned (STR)1.1 billion last year for the country's trade balance, slightly down from the (STR)1.15 billion contributed in 1980. The UK-registered fleet fell by 149 vessels, representing a further reduction in a once-leading merchant navy. Part of the drop was caused by operators switching to ''flags of convenience'' ownership in third-world countries

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