Top United States and Soviet trade officials Monday opened wide-ranging negotiations, with both sides expressing confidence a new trade agreement will be forged before the June summit between President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. It would be the first trade pact between the superpowers since President Truman imposed trade restrictions in 1947 after relations between the two World War II allies deteriorated.
The opening round of negotiations, behind closed doors at the office U.S. trade representative Carla A. Hills, covered 15 issues, ranging from granting normal U.S. tariffs for Soviet products to giving firm Soviet protections against pirating of U.S. patents.
Both Mrs. Hills and the chief Soviet negotiator, Yuri N. Chumakov, deputy minister of foreign economic relations, were smiling and in good humor when the first phase of the talks opened.
Both sides are eager to conclude an agreement as a cornerstone of improved relations between the countries. Bush regards a trade accord as an important prop for Soviet economic and political reforms, and Gorbachev is looking to greater access to the American market to bolster the flagging Soviet economy.
Mrs. Hills told reporters "we are a very efficient team," when asked if the talkscould be completed by April, the goal she set to allow enough time to draft the final document before the June summit.
Chumakov said that his country's huge trade deficit with the United States "will not be an obstacle" to successful negotiations.
After meeting again today and perhaps Wednesday, the negotiators may meet in Moscow later this month. Julius L. Katz, deputy U.S. trade negotiator, heads the U.S. team.
Private analysts doubt that there will be a substantial increase in U.S.-Soviet trade in the next few years as a result of an agreement because the United States has shown little interest in most Soviet products and the Soviet Union lacks the dollars needed to expand their purchases of American goods. But one senior administration official forecast a "substantial rise" over current levels.
Last year, the two-way trade amounted to nearly $5-billion, less than a third of U.S. trade with China. American exports to the Soviet Union came to $4-billion, mostly farm goods, while the United States imported about $700-million, largely crude oil and platinum.
A trade agreement granting normal tariffs to Soviet goods would reduce the price of items imported by Americans.