US Firms Seek Fewer Restraints on Soviet Trade

Article excerpt

WHILE United States businesses eagerly wait to expand trade with a reforming Soviet Union, they are pushing for a little perestroika (restructuring) at home.

"There are some things that need to be done overseas, but there are a lot of things the Americans need to do as well," says Stuart Bensley, manager of corporate business development at Brown & Root Inc. in Houston.

"Most of our allies have had more normal trade relations with the USSR than the United States," adds Kathryn Wittneben, president of Enterprise Development Information Inc., outside Washington, D.C.

The US needs to stop using trade with the Soviet Union as a political bargaining chip and start seeing it as an economic opportunity, according to several businessmen and experts familiar with America's Soviet trade.

Ms. Wittneben is writing a report due out this fall comparing America's Soviet trade policy with that of other developed nations. The initial findings suggest that the US is hurting its own chances to move into the Soviet market.

The biggest obstacle - at least symbolically - is the Jackson-Vanik amendment to US trade law. The amendment denies most-favored-nation status to the Soviet Union. That means the US sets very high tariffs on Soviet goods it imports. Jackson-Vanik was an attempt to pressure the Soviet Union into allowing the free emigration of Soviet Jews and other minorities. Image problems

The amendment's noneconomic impact has been even greater, says Margaret Chapman, director of the US-Soviet trade program of the American Committee on US-Soviet Relations, a public policy organization in Washington, D.C. "It cast a certain stigma. There were people who didn't want other people to know that they had trade going on with the Soviet Union."

Although President Bush has granted a waiver of the amendment and asked Congress to repeal it, the current situation makes it extremely difficult for a US manufacturer to set up shop in the Soviet Union and export products back to the US, says Michael Claudon, head of the Geonomics Institute in Middlebury, Vt.

There are other obstacles. …