MOSCOW — The first Soviet-American trade talks in six years ended Thursday and the head of the U.S. delegation reported that they were "useful."
"There is reason for optimism," Lionel H. Olmer, under secretary of commerce for international trade, said at a news conference.
He also broadly hinted that Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige will visit Moscow later this year for talks with Soviet Trade Minister Nikolai Patolichev.
Olmer said his three-day meeting with Soviet counterparts pointed toward wider opportunities for some American firms to export goods to the Soviet Union and raised the possibility of additional U.S. imports of Soviet raw materials.
Some Restrictions to Remain
But Olmer said he bluntly told Vladimir Sushkov, deputy foreign trade minister, that there is no chance that the United States will drop some existing restrictions on trade between the superpowers, especially those on strategically important goods. A 15-nation coordinating committee, known as Cocom, bars the export of items of possible military value to the Soviets.
Also, U.S. law denies the Soviet Union "most favored nation" trade status, thus mandating higher tariffs on many Soviet goods. "I made it plain that's not about to change," Olmer said.
But he said there are a number of areas--including agricultural products, petrochemicals and chemicals--where increased Soviet-American trade is possible.
U.S. exports to the Soviet Union last year were valued at $2.9 billion, the lowest level in five years, and 80% of the total represented the sale of grain and other farm commodities. In return, Soviet exports to the United States last year were valued at only $500 million.
When asked what Soviet goods might find a market in the United States, Olmer paused before answering, then said: "Chemicals, precious metals."
'Very Small' Market Soviet officials say they want to export more manufactured goods to the United States, but Olmer said the U.S. market for such products would be "very small."
Asked if the talks were a sign of improving relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, Olmer said they were first discussed last May but that it took seven months to arrange an agenda and a time for the meeting.
Tass, the official Soviet news agency, quoted Olmer as saying he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
The agency added: "The talks confirmed that there exist broad possibilities for a considerable expansion of trade between the two countries if artificial obstacles, which are not the fault of the Soviet Union, are removed."
It criticized "various (American) sanctions and embargoes and the unreliability of the U.S.A. as a supplier." As a result, Tass said, Soviet-American trade has been "stagnating" for six years.
In a formal press statement, the U.S. Embassy here said the talks were "frank and direct," which is diplomatic code for fairly sharp disagreement. But the statement also said that Olmer expressed "satisfaction" with the "tone and substance" of the sessions.