Two national food distributor trade associations -- The Cooperative Food Distributors of America and the National Association of Retail Grocers of the United States--have agreed to forge ahead on a proposed merger after the third party in the merger discussions--the National-American Wholesale Grocers Association--withdrew from the plan.

Representatives of CFDA and NARGUS met here last week to talk about the objectives they would have in common as a new association with a combined membership of about 1,600 businesses. The two groups are expected to make a final decision on the proposed merger in about a month.

NAWGA officials said it could not participate in the merger because it is involved in relocating its headquarters from New York to Washington.

We didn't decide not to participate--it was impossible for us to talk about it in the time frame that has been established by the associations," a NAWGA spokesman said. "We are in the process of moving to Washington, rebuilding our staff. It's all a matter of timing."

NARGUS Chairman Jim Stoll said the withdrawal of NAWGA from the discussions caused no hard feelings.

"We parted as friends," Stoll said. "They are moving in June and with that, they lost a number of staff . . . I accept the reasons they gave. Moving does take a great deal of time and effort. Their reasons were logical and very sound."

NARGUS currently has about 1,200 members, most of them independent retail grocery store operators, according to Stoll. The membership of CFDA consists of about 400 individual wholesale firms. If the merger becomes a reality, Stoll said, the new group hopes to increase its ranks to 5,000.

"What we're trying to do now is to develop our common goals and put together a structure as to how we'll operate the day-to-day activities," Stoll said. "We hope what would emerge would be a stronger group, economically and financially, a combined staff, a larger membership base . . . We're very compatible now."

As to the future possibility of NAWGA joining the other two associations, the NAWGA spokesman said, "It's always open." Stoll said CFDA and NARGUS will structure their new organization so that NAWGA could join later.