East-West trade pickup may tip toward the East
Brussels — Trade between East and West is expected to resume moderate growth in coming years, but Western experts see less Eastern dependence on imports and greater East bloc domestic production for a number of industrial products.
The Soviet Union needs to earn hard currency through energy exports so it can pay for Western grains and food products, and this need will continue to dominate commercial contacts in coming years. That was the dominant opinion of nongovernment experts meeting here for a NATO-sponsored conference on communist economies and East-West trade.
The two-day annual conference, however, did see some changing trends emerging in the economic relationship. Jan Vanous of Wharton Econometric Forecasting Services in Washington, for instance, noted the fact that most of the debt-ridden Eastern European countries had reduced their balance-of-payments deficits in the past year. Seeing this, Western bankers may relax the credit squeeze they have imposed on Poland, Romania, and their neighbors, Mr. Vanous said.
Although, Western leaders and governments have debated restrictions on high technology exports to communist countries, experts at the NATO meeting pointed to evidence that such trade was modest and perhaps declining.
The conferees pointed to a number of economic factors contributing to a reduced need for Western manufactured goods. Among them are a shortage of hard currency in the Soviet bloc because of a lack of credit and lower exports, and reduced domestic growth and demand. The drop in oil and gold prices and reduced arms sales to client states have also hurt communist hard-currency earnings.
In general, most of the participants were skeptical of the effectiveness of Western embargoes. One noted that ''they can get the most advanced Western technology by walking into any shop and simply buying Atari or other games.'' Argentina, Australia, and other countries have also taken over some agricultural sales in the aftermath of the Western grain embargo.
Despite the trend toward moderating imports of Western goods, many participants expect an era of pragmatic East-West economic cooperation in coming years. Economic reforms and a shift in some priorities by the new Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, are seen as one reason for this.