The Commerce Department, continuing the administration's new wave of cooperation with the business community, is starting a comprehensive program to help targeted businesses increase exports with the aid of government clout.

Rather than remaining neutral in disputes between U.S. companies and foreign governments, U.S. officials will work closely with those governments to make sure that U.S. firms are treated fairly in bidding and negotiations on projects overseas and in receiving other business assistance, said Herta Seidman, assistant Commerce secretary for trade development who is in charge of the new program called Stride Force One.

"We must take an advocacy position, which means a change in relations between business and government," Seidman said during a briefing with reporters yesterday.

Seidman said the United States must no longer be an open market for countries unwilling to treat American firms fairly.

For example, government officials are attempting to convince the Japanese to accredit American automobile parts manufacturers so they can provide replacement parts for Japanese autos sold here, Seidman said.

So far, Stride Force One has targeted the automotive parts and accessories, computer hardware and building materials and components industries for assistance. The companies were selected because they have good growth potential, relatively high investment in equipment and machinery and can improve their performances during low-profit cycles by exporting, Seidman said.

Strike Force One also helps the companies select foreign markets that will be most receptive and productive for them. For example, Argentina, Chile and Peru were selected for the automobile parts industry. Computer firms will work heavily in Switzerland, Spain and Greece; and the building materials trade will concentrate in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The new effort represents a change from Commerce's direction, because different types of assistance are under one roof now and trade wasn't a major emphasis of Commerce, Seidman said. Those industries that may receive assistance later include agricultural machinery, construction and mining equipment, aircraft and parts, telecommunications, medical instrumentation and metalworking, and electrical power equipment.

The program begins with seminars for the business executives, followed by trade missions, trade fairs and introductions to foreign buyers, Seidman said. tThe largest number of participants will be middle-range firms grossing $300 million to $400 million a year, she added.