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Eastern Europe: Strong U.S. Economy Boosts Trade With East

  • Robert Lyle



Washington, 20 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The continuing strong U.S. economy is paying off for the countries in Central and East Europe and Central Asia.

Trade figures for 1997 released yesterday by the U.S. Commerce Department show that exports from the region to the U.S. rose 21 percent over 1996, hitting nearly $8.5 billion.

Russia increased its sales to the U.S. in 1997 by 20 percent (nearing $4.3 billion) while the other former Soviet states registered a decline of eight percent in their sales to the U.S.

The U.S. does not release immediately trade figures for all countries, but says the nations of Central and East Europe, not counting former Soviet states, saw their exports to the U.S. climb a robust 37 percent in 1997, reaching nearly $1.36 billion.

Total trade between the U.S. and the nations of the entire region rose 13.5 percent, although U.S. exports to these countries went up only 6 percent. U.S. exports to Russia actually dropped 1.7 percent in 1997, reach about $3.29 billion.

For the first time, the region recorded an overall trade surplus with the U.S. for 1997, said the Commerce Department, the balance favoring the region by $727 million.

While of growing significance -- U.S. trade with the entire region totaled $16.17 billion -- it is still very small compared to overall American trade.

For 1997, U.S. exports climbed nearly 10 percent to a record $932.3 billion, while U.S. imports from the entire world rose 9 percent to just over $1 trillion. The American trade deficit for the year totaled $113.7 billion -- the worst showing in several years -- but still down as a percent of the U.S. economy. The U.S. economy is estimated to have grown at around 4 percent in real terms in 1997.

U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley said the figures paint a picture "of the healthiest U.S. economy in a very long time."

He said that while export growth continued to be strong, there were also early warning signs that the Asian financial crisis could hurt the trade balance as nations like South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, find U.S. products much more expensive for their devalued currencies.

Daley said the trade deficit as a share of the economy is now less than half what it was in 1987, but Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said continued financial crisis in Asia could spell real problems for U.S. trade.

Not only will those Asian countries which are traditionally heavy buyers of American goods have to reduce what they import, their now cheaper goods for American dollars flood U.S. markets, hurting not only U.S. producers but exporters in other areas such as East and Central Europe and Central Asia.

Rubin said the finance ministers and central bank governors of the G-7 group of major industrial nations, meeting in London on 21 February, will look at establishing a joint trade financing facility to help the Asian nations get normal trade moving again.

Following are the 1997 trade figures as released by the U.S. on 19 February. All are in millions of dollars: Region Purchases from U.S. Sales to U.S. Trade Total Entire..........$ 7,722........................$ 8,449...........$ 16,171 Russia......... 3,289......................... 4,290.............. 7,579 Other FSU.........1,741......................... 1,024.............. 2,765 Other EE....... 1,035......................... 1,359.............. 2,394

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