The world's major industrial nations are expected to pressure West Germany to boost its economic growth rate as a way to speed up the economic recovery of Western Europe at the meetings this week of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
The meeting, which includes the foreign and finance ministers of the world's 24 biggest industrial nations, is expected to focus on the need for a better economic recovery in Europe to help strengthen European currencies against the dollar.
The OECD meeting is also expected to serve as a prelude for this year's economic summit in Bonn next month. The summit involves the leaders of the seven biggest industrial nations: the United States, Britain, West Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy.
The high value of the U.S. dollar remains the top item on the international economic agenda. It is a centerpiece of attention for the OECD, and separately for deputy finance ministers, who met today to discuss international monetary reform. European nations insist the dollar is seriously overvalued.
In advance of Thursday's opening session of the OECD, organization officials expressed hopes for a "package deal" in which the Europeans would act to stimulate growth; the United States would take concrete steps to cut its budget deficit; and Japan would deliver on its promises to reduce its huge global trade surplus.
Specifically, OECD officials think that the Bonn government could accelerate the pace of an already announced tax reduction program, if the other elements of the "package" were produced.
So far, however, the West German government is firmly on record with the view that further fiscal stimulus could touch off a new round of inflation. There are bitter memories of a similar expansionist commitment a West German government made at the first Bonn economic summit in 1978. German officials appear to be shying away from a deal here that could be hardened into reality at the new Bonn summit.
"We've already done a lot to stimulate the economy , and we don't want huge deficits in the budget," Economics Minister Martin Bangemann said in a Washington interview last week.
But as officials at the OECD see it, it is important for West Germany, as the strongest European power, to make a greater effort. A principal reason for the strong dollar, they say, is Europe's lagging growth record, compared with Japan and North America.
The criticism of West Germany made by other Europeans is that in its pursuit of anti-inflationary goals, the government of Helmut Kohl is accepting the perpetuation of unemployment levels that are too high.
The OECD is led by Jean-Claude Paye, a former French Foreign office career diplomat who succeeded Emile Van Lennep last year. This week will mark Paye's first ministerial meeting, as well as Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III's first official appearance in the foreign economic arena.
The "package deal" that officials here hope will be shaped up by Friday is likely to run into more than just German resistance. The United States thinks American macroeconomic policy is not the sole cause of the high dollar, citing Europe's lagging growth as a main cause. Japan argues that it is being made the scapegoat for economic policy failures in Europe and America. And France doesn't want to talk about a new multilateral round of trade talks -- which is being urged by the United States and Japan -- unless there is "parallel" action to bring down the dollar.
Coincidentally, United States Trade Representative William E. Brock today told a forum organized by French business leaders to discuss "The Reagan Round" that the United States feels a new trade round is urgently needed, "and we intend to be in negotiations next year with whomever will come."
He added that the United States is willing to discuss monetary and financial issues, but not linked to trade. "We're prepared to talk about that in any appropriate forum, but the GATT is not an appropriate forum," Brock told the business leaders.
A major undercurrent that will be evident during the two-day session is a rising crescendo of complaints about Japan that has broken through diplomatic niceties. OECD spokesmen, for example, have been more willing to make a public case that Japan must "reverse" its propensity to run large trade surpluses. Americans stress the "free trade" view that Japan must provide greater access to its own market; but the Europeans talk of cutting Japan's surplus, even if that means limiting the amount of Japanese imports.
The European attitude, as represented at the meeting here, is that it may be difficult to say just what the Japanese government can do to boost imports or to cut its global trade surplus, but that the time has come for action, and "the results are more important than the means."
Some Europeans acknowledge that they are being pushed into a protectionist response. One influential figure suggests that the main danger, as the dollar holds strong and the Japanese build up trade surpluses,is that protectionism will once again become fashionable, with economists found who will justify it.
Meanwhile, the OECD published a study, commissioned back in 1982, of the "costs and benefits" of protectionism. The key finding was that the spread of protectionism has been extremely costly, with few benefits, even in the critical area -- claimed as a justification -- of job preservation.