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Talking about deficit can increase it

The United States is leading the world in the communications revolution, but with that status is coming an unwelcome byproduct. International calls made from the United States were responsible for nearly 2 percent of the nation's trade deficit in 1988. The reason? Every time an American dials a foreign country, the phone company in that country must be paid a fee. The same holds true in reverse.

For every call coming in from abroad, two are placed going out. Thus, Mexico collected $411-million in 1988. West Germany got about $150-million. In a few cases, such as Sweden, incoming calls outnumber outgoing ones and this country records a surplus.

Because prices are often higher for calls originating overseas, international callers learn to work the system to their advantage. If it is cheaper to call from here to Switzerland, than vice versa, firms with offices in both places will tend to dial from here. Or people may call here just long enough to tell their party to call back.

U.S. officials have urged foreign countries to follow their lead in introducing competition into telephone services and slashing consumer prices. If prices consumers pay were roughly the same here and abroad, calling patterns would come more into line, reducing that part of the U.S. trade deficit.