WASHINGTON — Commerce Secretary William C. Verity Jr. today said the Soviet Union could become a "large, new market" for U.S. exporters and suggested that prospects for improved trade will be aired during next week's visit by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Verity, a longtime advocate of improved U.S.-Soviet trade as chief executive of Armco Steel, told reporters that he had accepted an invitation along with some U.S. business leaders to meet with Gorbachev next week at the Soviet Embassy.
The session is set for next Thursday, after Gorbachev and President Reagan sign an arms control treaty at the White House.
"There is opportunity here, as time goes on, to participate in what could become a very large new market for the United States," Verity said.
"It's one that has been penetrated by the Japanese and the Europeans to a tremendous degree. The amount of business the Soviet Union does with those people is about $40 billion a year. The amount of business that the United States does with the Soviet Union is really minimal."
U.S. exports to the Soviet Union totaled about $2 billion last year, most of it in grain, while imports were around $500 million.
Increased trade with the Soviets "is an opportunity I've been interested in for some time," Verity said at a breakfast with reporters. "It's not going to happen very fast. (But) I think it's a real opportunity to build a bridge to the Soviet Union; and once that dialogue occurs, people will get to know each other better."
Verity, whose outspoken support of improved economic ties with the Soviets drew criticism from some conservatives in the Senate during his confirmation hearings last summer, said he does not intend to slight major U.S. trading partners in advocating more trade with the Soviets.