WITHIN the next 20 or so years, as unity of the European Community progresses, most major American companies will have set up representative offices in Brussels just as they have years ago in Washington, D.C. That's the forecast of Ansis M. Helmanis, director of industry relations for American Cyanamid Company in Wayne, N.J. The ``reps'' in these offices will be looking after corporate interests in Europe by lobbying or observing the EC bureaucracy and European Parliament in regard to laws and regulations.
This step may be ``a little premature'' for most of them now, says Mr. Helmansis. But United States companies should be getting better informed and taking measures already to protect their own interest, he says.
In general, US businessmen and officials are pleased by the Community plan to eliminate internal trade barriers by the end of 1992. ``We see this as an opportunity,'' says Max L. Turnipseed, manager of international trade affairs at the Chemical Manufacturers Association in Washington. ``We don't see it [the Community] as developing into a Fortress Europe.''
Nonetheless, many outsiders feel they had best keep a wary eye on developments being worked out at the headquarters of the Community in Brussels. They suspect that some of details of the 279 proposed or enacted directives aimed at unifying the market may consciously or inadvertently act as protective devices for European companies.
A discussion paper issued in December by the US Government Interagency Task Force on the EC Internal Market notes: ``...there are a number of areas where - based on currently available information - the US government believes EC initiatives raise policy issues which need to be addressed in the formulation of American policy toward the Community.''
``Under the guise of `supporting key sectors,' preventing `dumping,'' and obtaining `reciprocity' from trading partners, the EC is in danger of moving away from its original emphasis on a consumer-oriented liberalization of markets toward a producer-oriented `industrial strategy,''' warns the economic consulting firm of A.Gary Shilling & Co.
Helmanis suggests American companies find out what is going on in the 12-nation Community, set up a structure to analyze the impact of decisions or potential changes on their business, and then take measures to influence policies and regulations in the EC.
``We have no choice whether we welcome it or hate it,'' he says of EC unification. ``It is going on. It is an event of historical importance. It is not going to stop.''
Many American businessmen are already attempting to keep up with Europe 1992. Since business in the world's largest trading bloc is at stake, this concern should perhaps not be surprising. The Community is a market of 320 million people producing nearly $4 trillion in goods and services.
Francine Lamoriello, director of Internal Market Affairs at the US Department of Commerce, finds 1992 interest ``impressive.''
The Department last year established an information services office on the Community. Since September, it has had queries from some 6,000 US companies. It has given out 40,000 copies of Community directives, directives aimed at achieving full integration of the market for goods, services, financial capital, and labor. Ms. Lamoriello's office also turns out a quarterly newsletter, has sent a flyer on Europe 1992 to some 150,000 US companies, and she or her staff are participating in some 15 Department of Commerce seminars on the topic being held around the nation between last October and spring.
The National Association of Manufacturers is putting together a 30-page study of its own in cooperation with member companies and cooperating trade associations. It examines seven or eight areas that may offer problems for US firms, a list similar to that in the Commerce Department discussion paper.
That paper looks at such areas as ``reciprocity'' from non-EC countries in return for access to newly integrated markets in financial services and investment; antitrust regulation; national quantitative limits on imports; industrial standards; government procurement, and so on.
However, Stephen L. Cooney Jr., director of international investment and finance, concludes: ``For our members, especially those with investments in Europe, it is essentially a very positive development.''