Presidential hopeful John Connally aroused some small business people with hard talk about foreign trade.

A group of independent business people meeting with Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps last month, asked her why the Japanese weren't buying their apples.

And now a group of Washington business people are planning trade missions to Cuba and China, once the bane of conservative American business but which now present opportunities for bounty.

More and more small and medium-sized businesses are showing interest in foreign trade. Their interest has been goaded in part by the federal government, which wants to reduce its trade imbalance, and by local groups such as the D.C. Camber of Commerce, which want to help their members balance their books.

Trade experts agree that small and medium-size American businesses can be fattened by trading with economically starving nations. That' how many large corporations become larger.

However, many of the foreign countries eager for trade are interested in satisfying their own appetites for growth rather than merely allowing the drainage of their resources in return for American money.

"Most U.S. firms, for many good reasons, are not that interested in exporting even though they are competitive in the world market," Assistant Secretary of Commerce Frank A. Weil told a Senate Foreign Relations suncommittee in May. "This is especially true for thousands of medium-sized and smaller firms."

But Weil also said he noticed a 50 percent increase in the number of business contacts and export inquiries to the Commerce field offices since the administration began its National Export Policy last September. "In my opinion this indicates that the business community was waiting for a clear signal from government that exportingwould no longer be ignored by Washington," he said.

Many small and medium-sized businesses in the past were reluctant to enter foreign markets because "some think it would be a bigger puzzle so they stay at home," a Commerce spokesman said yesterday, "We show them how they can make more money."

During an informal meeting with a group of independent business people last month, Kreps outlined a number of programs Commerce plans to produce more interest among smaller businesses in foreign markets. Many of the business people, however, already were familiar with doing business abroad. Some praised Commerce's efforts while others criticized the department for being "too political. There are more chiefs than Indians," one businessman said.

Because the U.S. has no formal diplomatic or commercial relations with Cuba, no trade missions have been sponsored there, the spokesman said. "We just started with China."

The D.C. Chamber of Commerce, however, has embarked on its own trade mission program. In May it announced plans to begin joint ventures with the Egyptian government. Although seven to 10 businesses would be represented, Edward van Kloberg, chamber senior vice president, said that more than 30 companies have expressed interest in the project.

The countries the chamber is involved with, Egypt, Cuba, China and some others in the Middle East, appear to be in desperate need of technological development and have not been saturated already with large multinational companies.

For instance, since it signed the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, Egypt is expected to lose more than 1 billion dollar a year it would have received from the other Arabs as a "confrontation state" in the fight against Israel.

Earlier this month China adopted a new joint venture law that it hopes will bring in foreign investment and modern technology for its ambitious development plan. The law permits foreign firms to establish joint ventures with the Chinese enterprises and take their profits home in hard currency.

It also provides a legal framework for expansion by foreign business in China.

The chamber China trip, tentatively scheduled for next April, would bring about 50 members in face to face talks with Chinese business and cultural leaders for 10 days, Van Kloberg said.

Cuba, which has undergone some economic soul-searching in the past few months, also is eager for foreign investments and America's technological expertise. It also is ripe for American businesses to make a bundle.

According to Van Kloberg, a Cuban official approached him about "any trade that might take place." That mission is planned for the spring, Van Kloberg said, but details have not been worked out yet.

Cuba Recently acknowledged widespread deficiencies in organization and supply in some areas and is even promoting the once disparaged tourism as a way to ease its economic ills.

The businesses the countries are interested in are retailing, manufacturing, wholesaling, distributing, various services, financial institutions, scientific organizations and construction, Van Kloberg said.

District of Columbia People's Counsel Brian Lederer insists he's not interested in a seat on the D.C. Public Service Commission, no matter what it said in last week's Capitol Commerce column. "I'm very happy being people's counsel," said Lederer who contends he can be a more effective representative of consumer interest in his present job than as a member of the commission.

Woodward & Lothrop doesn't have the answers to the energy crisis, but Washington's biggest department store chain has the questions and is asking them in full-page advertisements today.

In what vice president for marketing William D. McDonald describes as "a pure community relations project," Woodies is asking customers how they feel about energy issues.

The questionnaire grew out of four "focus group" sessions put on for the store by Hamilton & Staff, a research and marketing firm, to try to gauge consumer attitudes in the midst of the energy mess.

In addition to giving consumers a way to vent their grievances, the questionnaire will give McDonald and other Woodward & Lothrop executives clues to consumer thinking that will find their way into merchandising and marketing strategies in the months ahead. Woodies' computers should have the results tabulated by the first week of August. Even the Greater Washington Business Center is planning a seminar for today on opportunities for making money in China.