SOMETHING new began arriving on Polish markets today: truckloads of Western European beef. Shipment of 10,000 tons of European Community (EC) beef, which should continue through early October, is the first sign of emergency food and other economic aid from Western countries designed to help spur the transition to a market economy in Poland and Hungary.
Assistance beyond food aid to Poland could be announced in late September or early October, when the second working session of Western experts on aid to Eastern Europe is expected to take place.
Early in August, the EC sponsored a meeting in Brussels to begin coordinating Western aid to the two East European countries, making good on a request issued at the Paris summit of the Group of Seven industrial democracies in mid-July.
In addition to about $110 million in food aid to Poland detailed by the EC, the United States said it would add $50 million in wheat to the $9 million in food assistance announced during President George Bush's Polish visit in July.
Sweden and Switzerland, among the 24 countries participating in the aid effort, said they would join in the food assistance as well.
Despite that, there is little likelihood the Western countries will ever send anything near the $2 billion in short- and medium-term food assistance the Poles say they need.
Western aid organizers say that while the food will be given to Poland, it will be sold on the market with the proceeds used to finance programs for building up the country's marketing network.
The Hungarian government surprised Western aid organizers by providing them with a detailed report of the kind of assistance they want. Seeking neither food aid nor restructuring of their external debts, the Hungarians asked for support from the Western countries in negotiations with such international institutions as the International Monetary Fund, for greater investments, and for more open markets for their products.
EC officials say the last suggestion is indeed more promising for Hungary than for Poland, since the former's economy is more prepared at this point to sustain increased exports.
Differences in the type of assistance from the West indicate the relative positions of the two Eastern European countries in their economic transitions.
The immediate emphasis on Poland's food needs suggests the dire straits through which that country is now sailing. While Hungary's interest in long-term assistance including facilitation of joint ventures, management training, and an opening of Western markets, indicates the relative stability of the Hungarian economy.