There was a time when most local governments paid little attention to international economic affairs.

In recent years the situation has been changing. As local governments have taken on greater responsibilities for promoting development and become aware of the expanding movement of goods, services and capital across national boundaires, they have become increasingly active in seeking to attract foreign capital and in stimulating exports.

The interest of local development officials in attracting foreign capital, or in "reverse investment," falls mainly in the field of direct investment, as contrasted with portfolio investment. In the latter, the investor makes capital available -- for instance, by purchasing securities -- to obtain a profit, but has no control over the use to which the capital is put. In direct investment, the investor is in a position to exercise a significant degree of control over his investment.

Foreign direct investment in the United States has for some time been increasingly substantially, spurred by exchange rates favorable to foreign investors, the desire to take advantage of the large U.S. market without fear of tariff or other import restrictions, actual or potential, and other factors. o

The United States is not, overall, an export-oriented country. Although our exports exceed in value those of any other country, they represent a considerably smaller portion of gross national product (about 7 percent) than is generally the case for major industrial nations.

Sensitive to the fact that dollar depreciation increases the cost of important U.S. imports and thus contributes to U.S. inflation and anxious to keep U.S. employment as high as possible, the Carter administration has engaged in a major drive to expand U.S. exports.

The present is therefore a most appropriate time for local governments that are not already active in export promotion to consider how they might best help their business communities find and expand export markets and thus contribute to local economic growth. In this field they can avail themselves of considerable federal and state assistance.

The federal government has long sought to promote U.S. exports. It has, for example, established programs of financial assistance to exporters; offered qualified exemptions from the antitrust laws from firms wishing to cooperate with others in export trade associations; made available, with the help of a large network of overseas representatives, information on markets all over the world; maintained trade centers abroad at which U.S. firms can display their wares; conducted seminars on doing business in particular foreign markets.

State governments also have been expanding their activities in the international business sphere. Over 30 states have at least one economic development office overseas, generally in Western Europe or the Far East, occasionally in Latin America.