WASHINGTON — Commerce Secretary C. William Verity said Thursday that the Soviet Union was a potentially large new market for U.S. goods, but cautioned that expanded trade was not going to come quickly.
He also said he planned to meet with Soviet businessmen and perhaps Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, after Gorbachev's summit meeting here with President Reagan next week.
Verity said at a news conference he and a number of U.S. businessmen would be meeting with a top Soviet trade official, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Kamentsev, following the Gorbachev-Reagan meetings. Kamentsev was named earlier this year to coordinate economic and foreign trade relations under the new Soviet policy of economic decentralization.
Verity said he did not know if Gorbachev would attend the meeting to outline the new Soviet policies, but U.S. businessmen said they thought he would be present.
Other Soviet trade officials told U.S. businessmen at a meeting Wednesday that their country was ready for an increase in trade with the United States.
Verity said U.S.-Soviet trade is minimal, about $1.5 billion a year--with most of it in farm products, adding that "the amount of trade with the Soviet Union, someone said, amounts to what trade we do with Canada on a Saturday morning." But he said there was a potential that was already being tapped by the European Community and Japan, with trade between those at about $40 billion annually.
Verity said: "So, there is an opportunity here as time goes on to participate in what could become a very large new market with the United States." But, he added, "it's not going to happen very fast."
Verity said the important U.S. trade partners now were Canada, Mexico, Western Europe, Japan and South America.
He said he saw no move to repeal the Jackson-Vanik Act, which was a hindrance to increased U.S.-Soviet trade, but the law was a lever to persuade the Soviet Union to permit the emigration of Jews.
The law, named after the late Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington and former Rep. Charles Vanik of Ohio, denies a nation most favorable trade status, which includes lower tariffs, if it does not permit free emigration of minorities.
Verity said, "I've seen no indication that there is any interest in dropping Jackson-Vanik."
Verity said that after increased trade and dialogue, new U.S.-Soviet ties might emerge and then "the Soviets would free up more immigration, then there might be some interest in doing something about Jackson-Vanik."
He also said that on a recent visit to Tokyo he tried to persuade Japan to play a greater role in world economic and trade affairs by opening up its markets to foreign goods.
But he said Japan still saw itself as a developing nation and was reluctant to open markets to cut its trade surplus, which this year will run about $60 billion with the United States alone.
He said Japanese leaders told him public works projects would remain closed to foreign firms, despite U.S. threats that if they were not opened the United States might retaliate and close its market to some Japanese goods.
Verity said federal projects have contractors designated by the Minister of Construction, and many other ministers in the new cabinet of Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita have ties to the construction business, which provides party finances.
He said, "they should find other resources to finance political campaigns."
But Verity shied away from proposing any broad U.S. trade action against Japan, saying it was a valuable ally in many other areas, including the defense of the Pacific region.