If wishing can make it so, the trade between the advanced industrialized countries of the West and the command economies of the East will be growing rapidly in the years ahead. The Soviet Union has made no bones about its strong desire to expand the scope of East-West trade. Businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians in the Western countries have been only a little more equivocal. Some countries have made an occasional effort to screen out technologies with important military application, while the United States has also sought to break down Soviet restrictions on the emigration of Russian Jews. But the West, too, has been on the side of expanded trade.

All told, the drive on both sides for more East-West trade has had its effect. Over the past 15 years, the annual trade of the U.S.S.R. and its COMECON partners with the advanced industrialized countries has managed to grow tenfold from about $3.5 billion to over $35 billion. What I suggest is that if such trade continues to grow at a rapid pace, frictions and obstructions will appear with increasing frequency. Under the existing institutions and rules of the game, increased East-West trade will strain the trading relations among the Western states, and will distribute the economic benefits of trade disproportionately to the East. As these effects become apparent, they will raise serious questions about the value of such trade for the West.

Yet it makes very little sense for the United States or any other country to attempt to suppress the growth of East-West trade. If appropriate rules of the game can be devised and adopted, such trade can bring economic benefits to both sides. Besides, if the United States were to attempt a policy of suppression, the effort would almost surely fail. But before it failed, it would generate major political costs both within the Western community and in relations with the East.

The challenge, therefore, is to devise a set of institutions and procedures that is compatible with a growing volume of East-West trade-but one that responds adequately to the interests of both sides. If my analysis is correct, any such regime will be difficult to put together. Some considerable consensus will have to be developed among the Western countries as to the nature of the problem and the direction of the appropriate remedy. As part of the appropriate response, the United States may be obliged to give up its sporadic efforts to use trade in order to extract political concessions from the U.S.S.R. Effective action may even require the tacit understanding of the Soviet Union itself.

As realists, of course, we must face up to the chance that none of these steps will prove possible. In that case, we may have to sit by until the increasing frictions and mounting obstructions eventually convey the necessary message.1


If Adam Smith were observing the nations of Western Europe and North America today, he would see little to connect them with the ideal open markets of his Wealth of Nations. Yet these Western economies still are predominantly market economies, in which market-determined prices, costs and profits play a key role. Some observers assume that these traits will be compromised over time, and that the West will develop an international system which is much more highly regulated. They point out that Western governments already conduct their trade in food, oil, gas, shipping, aviation, armaments and various raw materials under special rules not wholly consistent with the open market system. Moreover, wherever big, one-shot deals have been involved, such as the sale of ten B-747s or of a billion-dollar steel mill, these have been arranged under rules sui generis. Today, these aberrations are supplemented by an expanding number of bilateral "voluntary" export agreements, especially with the new crop of industrializing developing countries. If most of the trade among the so-called market economies comes to be conducted on the basis of such "state" arrangements, it would not be very difficult for those countries to deal with the special problems of East-West trade.

What is a plausible projection, then, of the future economic patterns inside the Western economies and of the trading system that is likely to prevail among them? Such a projection, it seems to me, is an indispensable preliminary step in trying to puzzle out what the effects would be of greatly increased trade between the West and the Soviet Union.

The odd thing is that almost any projection of Western economic patterns and of their future trade relations seems prima facie implausible. To begin with, it is implausible to assume that the important role played by the market inside such economies and among such countries will continue with the same strength in the future; the demands of one special group or another for protection from the rude impact of open competition seem greater than ever. Yet it is just as implausible to assume that the Western economies will greatly control the operations of the open market, whether in their internal structures or in trade among them. The ideological and economic interests that would resist any such curtailment seem formidable; indeed, the economic interests that have a stake in maintaining an open market have never been so large. Moreover, any country that takes a substantial step toward closing its borders is exposed to retaliation, on a scale unmatched in history.

My expectation, therefore, is that the Western economies will back into a new set of relationships, one that tries to retain some considerable measure of national and international market freedom accompanied by some substantial capability for responding to the demands of their threatened sectors. The only such set of relationships I can envisage entails a tightening of the ties among a relatively limited number of Western countries that are historically committed to the extensive use of the market mechanism, a grouping that seeks to achieve its measures of economic adjustment by joint action. This begins to sound like a modified free-trade area among some subset of advanced industrial countries of the OECD: an area in which monetary, fiscal, agricultural, industrial, and conjunctional policy are developed and applied with some measure of coordination; and an area with some common economic policies toward outsiders.2

But if such a system actually developed, the economies of its members would still remain substantially different from that of the U.S.S.R. For the West, the underlying rule would still be that any trade can take place unless a government prevents it; while for members of COMECON, and especially for the U.S.S.R., the rule would be that no trade takes place unless the state initiates it. Inside the Western economies, firms would still be buying inputs at something resembling an open market price and selling their outputs at such a price; and internal prices would still be linked directly to foreign prices by comparatively low trade and payment barriers plus a convertible currency.

Meanwhile, inside the Soviet Union internal prices and costs would only be linked to foreign prices and costs to the extent that the central planning process chose to make the linkage. Any direct or automatic linkage would be prevented by: a prohibition of international trade and payments except when conducted by authorized intermediary agencies; a requirement that internal producers deliver designated goods for export or accept foreign goods through intermediary Soviet agencies, without regard to price; and a domestic currency that has no value outside the U.S.S.R.3

These differences would mean, among many other things, that the Soviet Union could restrict its trade (as it does today) simply by failing to act; whereas any restriction on the Western side would require (as it does today) some visible restrictive measures.

The differences between any future regime that may be foreseen among the market economies and the inherent features of the Soviet system are apparent not only in international trade but also in foreign direct investment. Under present conditions, it seems somewhat farfetched to think of substantial foreign direct investment on the part of the Soviets. Nevertheless, if the foreign trade of the U.S.S.R. should expand very much-especially if it should expand in manufactured products-the country will be pushed to set up servicing and assembling facilities in some of its overseas markets. Soviet authorities, for instance, have talked more than once about expanding their exports of Lada automobiles from the present trickle to something more substantial. But that step is hard to contemplate unless the Soviet Union or its agents are prepared to set up substantial facilities in some of the markets to which Ladas are exported.

Among the market economies, governments are gradually beginning to face up to the issues associated with the operations of multinational enterprises in their respective economies.4 It is already fairly clear that, as this type of business structure grows in relative importance in the market economies, the countries concerned will have to find new ways of sorting out the jurisdictional frictions among them; subjects such as taxation, restrictive business practices, security controls, political activity, and labor relations, among others, could well be involved in such discussions. In general, the home countries of such enterprises are likely to find themselves increasingly restrained by international agreement whenever they contemplate reaching out to control the foreign subsidiaries of their firms.

For the U.S.S.R., on the other hand, the tie between the home government and the overseas subsidiaries of Soviet firms will probably always be strong. On command from the ministries of the U.S.S.R., for instance, Soviet firms would be expected to withdraw from any country declared to be non grata; or to make their liquid business assets available to the Soviet Union; or to discriminate in the choice of customers and suppliers. For the present, how to integrate such actors into the Western system seems unclear.


The means by which the two systems seek to gain from international transactions are thus markedly different. The Soviet system is based on the proposition that social gain is maximized by the state's commands. The American system, like the system of most Western countries, is fashioned on the proposition that as individuals pursue their private gain, the benefits for the country will exceed its costs, yielding a social gain.

The fact is, however, that private gain to the American parties in any individual transaction does not correspond to U.S. social gain. The private parties in the transaction may be subsidized from the public sector, through Export-Import Bank loans or through research subsidies. Even when not subsidized, their otherwise profitable transactions may have implications for inflation or unemployment or national defense which turn private gain into social loss. The classic case, of course, was the Great Grain Robbery of 1972; but other less spectacular cases are sometimes cited as well. Nevertheless, as far as U.S. policies and practices are concerned, private gain in any given transaction is both a necessary condition and a sufficient condition for any trade or investment. Social gain alone is neither necessary nor sufficient.

As long as an American is engaged in trade or investment with another Western country, the gap between private gain and social gain is fairly tolerable. In the case of those countries, the situation in theory is broadly reciprocal. That is, the private firms of any Western nation engage in trade or investment with those of another nation in the group whenever they see an opportunity for private gain, irrespective of the social economic consequences of their transactions for their home economies as a whole. (That proposition is less true of trade or investment with Japan-a fact that explains in part the underlying tensions in the West in economic relations with that country.)

Of course, Soviet traders do not always manage to capture a social gain for their own country. Decisions may be taken in the Soviet Union out of fear or ignorance or stupidity or the narrow interests of some portion of the Soviet bureaucracy. But it would be prudent to assume that the U.S.S.R. would not sell any product to the West if the sale entailed any obvious social loss for the Soviet Union. At the same time, the point should not be lost that Moscow can readily block any transaction that might entail an obvious social gain for the West.

Accordingly, trade and investment relations between the West and the U.S.S.R. are conducted on a chancy basis. In some transactions, to be sure, both sides may find themselves gaining in social terms. For instance, the Soviet Union may sell the United States much-needed oil while we sell them badly needed grain; the chief advantages to us may be a dampening of inflation, and to them a dampening of political discontent. In other transactions, however, the Soviets may gain while we lose in social terms: the U.S.S.R. may gain some new technology, while the United States acquires a new competitor in international markets. In sum, a lopsided relationship exists that should qualify our enthusiasm for an expansion of trade and investment with the Soviet Union, as long as these transactions are conducted through existing institutions and ground rules.5


A more familiar concern with regard to Soviet economic relations with the West is that the U.S.S.R. is in a position to exercise its power as sole supplier or sole purchaser in trading transactions with competing Western businessmen, thus capturing most or all of the gains from trade.

This argument has been repeatedly advanced and repeatedly pooh-poohed by some economists familiar with the structure of East-West trade.6 The counter-argument has been that, as buyers, the Russians are not all that important to the West; and as sellers, they contribute only marginal quantities of any given product to the West. Accordingly, they are seen as price takers, unable to determine the level of market prices, rather than as giant forces determining the prices in such markets.

It is important not to exaggerate the extent of Soviet economic power. But it is wrong to assume that such power is trivial. The trade relations of the Soviet Union and COMECON with various European countries, for instance, are substantial. Besides, our concern here is not with the existing level of trade and investment, but with a substantially expanded level. Finally, there are some peculiarities of pricing on both the buying and the selling side of Soviet trade that merit substantial concern.

Sales by the West to the U.S.S.R. in recent years have included a considerable amount of technology; sometimes these sales have been associated with the sale of capital equipment, sometimes not. It is customary to think of sellers of technology as monopolists or oligopolists, capable of exacting a rent from buyers. But, of course, practically all sellers of modern technology confront competitors or near-competitors offering some alternative technological approach.

Where such competition exists, the U.S.S.R. appears to be in an excellent position to exploit that fact. First of all, few sellers to the Soviets are interested in making an isolated sale, however large that sale may be; most sellers are aware that firms with a prior record in the Soviet Union have an inside track for the future. Accordingly, there is good reason in the interest of future sales to price the technology low. To be sure, this tendency is not unknown in Western markets. But the difference is an important one of degree. In Western markets, the sellers can ordinarily hope to make multiple sales of a given technology; in the U.S.S.R., just one. In Western markets, the seller has his eye on developing a privileged position with one buyer if he can; in the case of the U.S.S.R., his eye is on access to a whole economy. Accordingly, the temptation to cut prices may be commensurately stronger.

That temptation is strengthened by still another factor. If a Western firm fails to sell its technology to the Soviet Union, it cannot hope to exploit the technology inside the U.S.S.R. by other means, such as exports or licensing or production through subsidiaries. When the firm sells its technology, therefore, it gives up nothing in the way of alternative opportunities. This means that a floor price, which would exist if the Western sellers were making their offers in a market economy, is not present in sales to the Soviets. Inasmuch as the added costs to the firm of generating the technology for sale to the U.S.S.R. is usually zero or near zero, there is almost no restraint on how deeply the seller can cut the price.

Taken together, these factors seem likely to create a powerful downward push on sales prices. Inasmuch as the actual facts in the case are not well known, this conclusion can only be stated as surmise. Nevertheless, the surmise seems sufficiently plausible to justify a certain amount of caution while gaining a better grasp of the facts.

As for the pricing of goods and services exported by the Soviet Union, this, too, has certain peculiarities. The mix of products and services offered by the Soviets for sale in the open market will be determined by the national economic plan, supplemented from time to time by items that have been overproduced in the U.S.S.R. or acquired in barter with other countries. The sales goals will often be stated in physical units, and the rewards to the selling agency will depend heavily on whether its physical targets are met. Since the Soviet Union separates internal costs from external prices, such costs need not serve as much of a constraint. Instead, the foreign price fixed for these products and services will characteristically be the closest competitor's price, discounted just enough to meet the sales target.

Another price problem associated with Russian trade stems from the fact that many East-West transactions are barter trades that characteristically swap Soviet goods for Western technology or goods. These swaps take a number of different forms. One consists of straight barter of specified quantities of goods, such as American soft drinks for Russian vodka; another more generalized form allows the Western partner to choose from a shopping list; a third consists of barter that pays off the Western partner with future output from a specified plant-so-called compensation deals. The swap in its various forms has peculiarities that place its control largely in Soviet hands. For instance, the volume of goods to be sold by the foreigner in the U.S.S.R. is always under Soviet control, simply because the state controls the distribution channels; so are the quantity and character of the goods available in return, which are mediated by the export ministries.

Some forms of swap arrangements also exacerbate the problem of marginal pricing to a degree that elevates the problem to major proportions. In compensation deals, for instance, there is commonly a long interval between the time when the Western partner delivers a plant or other capital goods to the U.S.S.R. and the time when it receives some of the resulting output as compensation. When such an interval exists, the Western partner receives its return long after its own costs are only a matter of memory. At that stage, the Western partner may be willing to accept any price in the resale of the Soviet merchandise received. Occidental Oil's recent sales of Russian ammonia in the U.S. market raise many of these issues.

One response of the market economies to this group of problems in years past has been to try to apply the rules of the market economy by analogy to trade with command economies. If this approach were ever applied, however, the markup of state trading importers would be analogous to a tariff and would be subject to negotiation; importers would be duty-bound not to discriminate among different sources of supply, and so on.7 Any approach of this sort is a nonstarter. Because the internal prices of the U.S.S.R. have been totally insulated from foreign prices, the market analogy is meaningless.

To be sure, the Soviet Union has undertaken in bilateral agreements with the United States and with various European countries to provide a response of sorts. The U.S.S.R. undertakes in such cases to cease exporting products to a given market which the importing partner feels will "cause, threaten, or contribute to the disruption of its domestic market." Although this formula no doubt is offered in good faith by the Russian side, it nevertheless lays all the political onus on the West. The Soviets can limit the entry of Western goods without taking any overt act-simply by failing to buy. The Western partner, on the other hand, must explicitly invoke the disruption clause, a step that cannot avoid having political overtones. Similarly with export restrictions: the U.S.S.R. can limit the export of its products simply by failing to sell; but the Western partner will have explicitly to restrain its sellers in order to achieve the same result. The hesitation of Europe to invoke this kind of clause because of political considerations has been palpable in the past year or two.8 Although there has been widespread distress over mounting imports of steel products and textiles, disruption clauses have not been invoked. Accordingly, we are far from having achieved a balanced basis for bilateral trade.


In any case, the problems of any Western country with respect to the U.S.S.R.'s trading practices commonly involve third-country markets as well as those of the country itself. This involvement takes several different forms.

One major problem arises out of the Soviet Union's strong preference for conducting its foreign trade on a balanced bilateral basis. In their most restrictive form, the arrangements that are fashioned to maintain such a balance extend well beyond the barter-type transactions mentioned earlier. In such arrangements, the authorities agree on some target bundle of imports and exports of more or less equal value that they envisage will be bought and sold by the traders of the two nations over a given period, say a year. A pair of clearing accounts is set up, maintained by the respective central banking authorities of the two countries concerned. As individual transactions are arranged, each country pays off its exporters in its home currency, and receives in its home currency the payments due from its importers. The object is to finish each trading period with a zero balance in both national accounts; in that way, neither country is obliged to pay any foreign exchange to the other.

During the period of the agreement, of course, one nation or the other may find itself with a surplus in the clearing account, generated by the fact that its exporters will have sold more than its importers have bought. In that case, the deficit country will exhort its partner to buy more. When that happens, the partner is expected to find ways of discriminating in favor of the deficit country. For example, if one of the partners is a mixed economy with a substantial contingent of state-owned enterprises or heavy governmental purchases, such as Brazil, it is likely to correct an imbalance by directing its enterprises and government offices to buy Soviet products whenever they can, irrespective of price.

Where a bilateral agreement exists and where an imbalance needs to be righted, the temptation of the partners to manipulate an import licensing system is hard to resist. Even if no such agreement exists, the propensity for discrimination will be high wherever the trade has been placed on a barter basis. Not surprisingly, one hears occasional complaints that West European countries tolerate the imports of steel and textiles from Eastern Europe while barring similar imports from Japan and the developing countries.9

So far, these practices have not been of earthshaking importance in the trade of West European countries. True, such practices have been inconsistent with various commitments to other Western countries, but they have covered only small quantities of trade. If trade is greatly increased, however, there is a risk that countries will disregard their commitments to nondiscrimination, epitomized in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Common Market treaty, and various other treaties, to a degree that could imperil the commitments themselves.

The problems posed by the growth of the Soviet Union's trade involve third-country relationships in other ways. The market-disruption clause to which the U.S.S.R. is prepared to subscribe in bilateral agreements, it should be noted, does not apply to Soviet sales made to third countries. Where such sales displace U.S. exports or the exports of other market economies, it is for the importing country to decide whether to take measures to redress the balance. For instance, if the U.S.S.R. were to sell its Lada automobiles in Canada at extraordinarily low prices, as it might well have to do in order to build up an adequate volume of sales, the third-country problem would surface in an especially acute form.


The security export controls of the United States pose a special set of problems for the growth of East-West trade. These controls have little or nothing to do with the economic problems associated with such a trade, which is the center of the concern I am expressing here. Instead, they are intended to prevent certain selected exports with direct military application from going to the U.S.S.R.10

As long as the U.S. Government applies such controls with great care and selectivity, their contribution to U.S. interests cannot seriously be questioned. I have always had considerable reservations, however, about the utility of attempting to apply such controls beyond the occasional exceptional case. The recent shift in emphasis from restricting goods to restricting technology generates the same reservations on my part, and they are widely shared by others. One reason for such reservations is the judgment of many Western experts that the U.S.S.R. has the capability of closing (or at any rate of substantially narrowing) most technological gaps in the military field if it considers them serious. Another is that the imposition of overt controls from the West at times helps the ponderous Soviet bureaucracy in its efforts to highlight any weaknesses in Soviet military capabilities, and helps that bureaucracy generate higher internal priorities for an effective response.

If the application of a general system of security export controls is of dubious value to the United States, as I think is the case, any costs that are incurred in applying such a system seem especially misplaced. One obvious cost is incurred whenever the United States finds itself obliged to put pressure on unwilling allies in order to make some U.S.-initiated embargo effective. Some of that pressure is exerted through COCOM, an international organization in which the United States seeks to generate common lists of products and processes to be embargoed for security reasons. Other U.S. government pressures, even more costly in political terms, are exerted via the U.S.-based multinational enterprises, and target the subsidiaries of such enterprises located in third countries.

The stringency of these controls has varied over time, according to the temperature of relations with the Soviet Union. The number of instances in which the United States feels obliged to put pressure on its allies, however, is a function not only of the degree of stringency of the controls but also of the general level of East-West trade. Accordingly, as such trade increases, the United States is likely to be found exerting its pressures with increasing frequency, thereby adding to the political costs of garnering the questionable benefits of the export control program.

Related to the use of security controls in East-West trade is the question of whether the United States should use its economic leverage with the U.S.S.R., such as it is, to try to achieve political ends. Of course, any basic aspect of the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union cannot fail to be shaped by some fundamental political calculation; the superpower status of the two countries virtually compels both countries to weigh their relationship in political terms. The question here, however, is whether the United States should attempt to link specific economic concessions to specific political goals. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974 compels the President to make the linkage in the case of Soviet emigration policies. The approach could easily be extended in principle to issues such as Soviet military support to South Yemen and Ethiopia.

The case to be made on either side of the issue involves the subtle questions of strategy and tactics. On relatively simple grounds, however, case-by-case linkage is not desirable. There are two reasons for my conclusion.

First, as suggested earlier, the situations in which the United States alone can exercise significant leverage are rare; at best, therefore, the gains in such an overt policy can only be small. The reasons for the relative impotence of the United States have already been suggested. In order for the United States to exert effective leverage, the costs to the U.S.S.R. of doing without American grain or American technology, for instance, must be fairly high. Experience suggests that such cases are not common, because the Soviet Union can generally redeploy its own internal capabilities to narrow the gap or to find a near-substitute for American products and processes in other countries.

The second point is that on any issue that relates to the Soviet Union, U.S. negotiators are in an extraordinarily weak position for effectively handling a linkage strategy. Such a strategy demands great flexibility in choosing both when to link and when to delink. The fishbowl in which the executive branch ordinarily conducts its relations with the U.S.S.R. is a grossly unpromising environment in which to pursue such a policy.

Besides, once the American negotiators have chosen-or have been pressed-to link economic benefits to political objectives, they can no longer use their economic power to pursue other needs. If my argument is right, the economic needs may well prove to be compelling, demanding all the economic leverage the United States can muster.


It hardly needs saying that the other advanced industrialized countries of the West have both economic and political interests in common with the United States in their dealings with the Soviets. These other countries so far have resisted the development of a common trade policy toward the Soviet Union based on common political interests. But they have never been strongly tested on whether common economic interests might be allowed to shape their trade policy toward the U.S.S.R.

So far, the failure to develop such cooperation has not been very costly, simply because East-West trade has not been very great. If such trade should very much increase under existing ground rules and existing institutions, however, the cost could prove substantial.

Nevertheless, shifting our trade strategy with the Soviet Union from one based on military security and politics, narrowly construed, to one based on economics will be difficult. The atmosphere is already conditioned by 25 years of debate in COCOM, where the United States has argued its case principally on political or military grounds. Still, the shift in emphasis may be possible. Europe today is more preoccupied with the potentially disruptive economic effects of East-West trade than before, worrying about dumped manufactures and hard competition in shipping from Soviet sources.11 Moreover, the fact that the European Community under the terms of the Rome Treaty has now assumed the responsibility for East-West trade policy (at least in the formal sense) opens up possibilities for coordination that did not exist earlier.

To achieve the necessary cooperation, the market economies would have to come to share the key judgment suggested earlier: that high volumes of trade between them and the U.S.S.R. could imperil the relations of the market economies with one another unless some improved rules of the game can be devised; and that the uncoordinated approach of the market economies could allow the U.S.S.R. to capture the larger portion of the gains from trade. Not all market economies could be persuaded to consider these propositions seriously; most developing countries, for instance, would draw back from such consideration. But the principal countries to be persuaded in any case would be those in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In order to increase the receptivity of OECD countries, the first requirement would be to pursue the subject outside of COCOM, thereby emphasizing the changed basis for the discussion. The second would be to limit the formality of any organizational structure, for fear of straining the political tolerance of the Europeans. OECD consultative procedures, for instance, might be as far as one would want to go at first.

At least as difficult would be the problem of convincing the Soviet Union itself that changes in the trading framework were being dictated by economic considerations, not by cold war tactics. On that score, the United States and the other Western countries suffer from the initial disadvantage of having allowed the U.S.S.R. for so long to go unchallenged in some of its key contentions as to what constitutes "reciprocity" and fair-trading relationships. So far, the market economies have tacitly tolerated the lopsided idea that any failure on the part of the Russians to trade with them is a neutral nonpolitical act, a manifestation of an inherent right of the U.S.S.R. not to trade unless it sees its interests being served; whereas the unwillingness of the market economies to trade is seen by the Soviets as an aggressive political act, even in circumstances in which such trade might incur a social loss for such economies. The Soviet Union must be persuaded that these long-unchallenged assumptions have always been indefensible, and that if greatly increased volumes of trade are to take place, such assumptions will have to be abandoned.


The objective, therefore, is to develop a regime among the advanced industrialized countries in which trade and investment with the Soviets can comfortably expand. In the best of circumstances, such a regime will be difficult to create. It will be impossible to create, in my view, if the United States insists on retaining the right to use its trade with the U.S.S.R. as a lever for the attainment of political conditions; in that case, other advanced industrialized countries would want to maintain considerable distance from U.S. policy. Such a regime, therefore, might well require the United States to give up its independent approach to East-West trade, including the use of political conditions to determine whether unconditional most-favored-nation treatment and Export-Import Bank loans should be granted to the Soviet Union.

What would such a regime include?

One basic principle would be for the Western states to claim the right to apply the same presumption that the U.S.S.R. applies, namely, that no trade should be expected to take place unless it contributes a net economic benefit to the market economies as a group. Agreement on the principle is more important, in my opinion, than its rigorous application. Indeed, any effort to judge many individual transactions by that criterion could rapidly be turned into a bureaucratic nightmare. But the principle would be important for two purposes: first, to remind both sides of the fundamental point that both must be in a position to benefit in a social sense if trade is to continue and to expand; second, to snag the occasional large isolated transaction which, by its terms, seems to threaten the aggregate economic interests of the West.

A second principle would be to multilateralize, as far as possible, the participation of the advanced industrialized countries in trade with the Soviet Union. Under this heading, bilateral clearing accounts and government-supported barter would be curbed; provisions for the sharing of raw materials sold by the U.S.S.R. would be set forth, to be applied in periods of acute scarcity; and quantitative goals for aggregate Soviet imports from the cooperating market economies would be developed, goals that might be reached by a process of negotiation with the Soviet Union.12

Another element in such an approach would be the development of joint policies among the market economies on various technical issues that relate to trade with the Soviet Union, such as the terms of credit to be extended to Soviet buyers. This is an old chestnut, on which cooperation has not been notably successful in the past; on the other hand, agreements in this field have always been pursued in a vacuum, outside of any larger economic framework for trade with the Soviets. It may be that, as one plank in a more coordinated approach, such agreements would have a greater chance for success.

Finally, there is the possibility of developing joint economic demands that would involve the intangible aspects of trade and investment. For example, one could conceive of the Soviets being asked to improve the rights of visitation of Western businessmen to a number of branches of Soviet industry in which such businessmen had a technological interest. Under a regime of this sort, it is conceivable that the privilege of Soviet representatives to visit, for instance, the steel plants of the West would be balanced by the right of Western businessmen and technicians to visit designated groups of plants in the U.S.S.R. Steps such as these would be needed to right the lopsided character of existing arrangements.


These possibilities are suggested only illustratively. The important underlying point is to recognize that the present basis for trade and investment is lopsided; that if East-West trade greatly increases, a form of Gresham's law may push the market economies further from their own preferred basis for trading with one another; and that any solution to that problem is likely to require greater cooperation among such economies.

Desirable as this recognition may be, one must soberly entertain the possibility that it will not come about. The individual states of Western Europe and Japan are already tied up in so many complex deals with the U.S.S.R.-the United States with grains, Italy with oil, Germany with gas, and so on-that the world may well have reached the point at which a cooperative effort is beyond the collective capabilities of the advanced industrial nations. As a result, we may find ourselves impotent to right the imbalance between the West and the U.S.S.R., and unable to mitigate the threat to our present international economic systems that appears to be associated with increasing economic relations with the Soviets under the existing rules.

Even in that case, however, a heightened sensitivity to the problems of such trade will serve some purpose. It will serve to remind us that, under the present rules of the game and under existing institutions, any expansion of trade with the Soviet Union may entail some significant costs, and that the benefits to be derived ought to be clearly superior to those costs.


1 Of course, if the U.S.S.R. proves incapable of expanding its foreign trade very much in spite of the desires of its leaders, as some experts think, the problem may be put off. See Richard Portes, "East, West, and South: The Role of the Centrally Planned Economies in the International Economy," Discussion Paper No. 630, Harvard Institute of Economic Research, June, 1978.

2 The 24 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Communities and Yugoslavia have limited participant status.

6 See, for instance, Economic Relations Between East and West: Prospects and Problems, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1978.

7 See, for example, Havana Charter for an International Trade Organization, Articles 29, 30 and 31, adopted by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations conference in Havana, Cuba, November 14, 1947-March 24, 1948.

8 See, for instance, European Parliament, Report on the State of Relations Between EEC and East European State-Trading Countries and COMECON, Document 98/78, May 11, 1978.

9 Ibid.

11 See, for instance, "Chemicals in the East Explode West," The Economist, February 10, 1978, p. 84.

12 Some additional interesting suggestions appear in E.A. Hewett, "Most Favored-Nation Treatment in Trade Under Central Planning," supra, footnote 3.

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  • Raymond Vernon is Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Center for International Affairs and Herbert F. Johnson Professor of International Business Management at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. He is the author of Storm Over the Multinationals and editor of The Oil Crisis, among other works.
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