A new Labor Department study has concluded that "orderly marketing agreements by other nations to limit their exports voluntarily in specific industries - are not necessarily inflationary, as critics have contended.
The study, which reviews developments in footwear, specialty steel, color TV sets and textiles - shows U.S. producers actually raised their prices less rapidly after officials negotiated OMAs affecting their industries than before.
Moreover, the study said in each case the protection afforded by the OMA allowed the domestic industry involved to make long -needed investments in new plants and equipment that increased both its capacity utilization and productivity.
The thrust of the study appeared to contradict contentions by some critics - including the adminstration's own Council on Wage and Price Stability - that imposing OMAs woukd spur greater price increases by domestic industries.
President Carter - and the Ford administration before him - used OMAs in several instances as a way to ward off pressures for more drastic measures, such as flat import quotas. The OMAs then were portrayed as compromises.
Concumer groups argued the decisions would cost consumers millions of dollars in higher price increases. Their reasoning was that if import competition were dampened, domestic industries would raise their prices more sharply.
Yesterday's study argued that although "it is impossible to know" how rapidly prices would have risen without these OMAs, the actual results show that import relief "need not impose an unique cost on consumers. . . ."
However, labor Department official cautioned that in each of the four industries involved, the moderate price behaviour stemmed in part from special factors, such as changes in demand levels.
As a result, they conceded, the conclusion thatr OMAs are not inflationary would not necessarily apply to all industries.
So far, the U.S. has negotiated three OMAs - one involving specialty steel, in the spring of 1976, and two others in mid-1977 affecting shoes and color TV sets. Textile imports have been limited under longer-term agreements.
Administration officials have argued the OMAs are preferable to formal quotas because they are negotiated with the manufacturing company, rather than imposed unilaterally, and usually are temporary, lasting only two or three years.
However, free-trade "purists" have contended that, temporary or not, OMAs still are a form of protectionism. In the case of footwear, TV and shoes, the International Trade Commission had urged more stringent measures.