EAST BERLIN -- East Germany has scaled back its economic targets under its current five-year plan after growth eased last year to the slowest pace since 1982 because of sagging investment, poor exports and a reluctance to borrow from the West.

A new note of self-criticism has appeared in official statements on the economy. The nation's communist leaders have conceded openly for the first time in several years that performance has fallen considerably short of goals.

So far, however, the government has responded by reviving calls for "greater discipline" rather than by echoing Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's proposals for perestroika, or restructuring.

East German officials and economists contend, with some justification, that the Soviet Union is seeking to implement economic policy changes introduced here in the 1970s. East Germany granted extensive powers at that time to managers of individual production units, for example, and the Soviets are aiming to do the same.

Nevertheless, domestic support for additional economic reform is likely to rise unless the leadership succeeds in putting the economy back on track, western analysts said.

East Germany also is under considerable pressure from the Soviets to maintain its status as Eastern Europe's economic powerhouse. East Germany is the largest trading partner of the Soviet Union, which relies heavily on it for imports of manufactured goods.

For the moment, the Soviets appear content to let the East Germans deal with their problems as they see fit, analysts said. Moscow has little interest in encouraging instability in East Germany, providing that it delivers the products the Soviets want.

By East Bloc standards, East German consumers are spoiled. Meat and consumer appliances such as television sets are readily available.

But consumers still must wait more than 10 years to buy a new automobile. Politburo member Werner Felfe told the Communist Party Central Committee last month that consumers had been "directly affected" by economic problems.

The government announced then that it had lowered its growth target for 1988 to 4.1 percent from the goal of 4.5 percent for each year of the 1986-1990 plan.

On Jan. 12, the government announced that growth in 1987 was 4 percent, or the lowest rate in five years. The economy fell short of its target in the previous year as well.

East Germany's reported growth rates would be welcome in any western industrialized country, but they overestimate actual expansion by between 1 and 2 percentage points, according to western diplomatic analysts here and West German government experts in Bonn.

The difference between the reported rate and the actual rate is due to the East Germans' claim -- disputed by western analysts -- that there is no inflation in the economy here.

East German economists blamed external factors for the slowdown.

"We are well aware that the conditions for growth are difficult," said Diethelm Hunstock, dean of the faculty of domestic economics at the University for the Economy here.

The population is shrinking, he said. He also noted that prices have slumped on world markets for bulk chemicals and refined petroleum products, which are major East German exports to the West, while the production of soft coal, East Germany's principal energy source, has stagnated because mines are getting old.

Western experts said another major reason for the slowdown is East Germany's unwillingness to buy western machinery and other capital goods to boost industrial productivity.

Since 1982, East Germany has followed a strict policy of running trade surpluses with the West, thereby avoiding increasing its indebtedness to western banks. In that year, the East Germans were severely affected by a cutoff in western lending to Eastern Europe caused principally by a debt crunch in Poland and Romania.

Today, with net western indebtedness of $6 billion and hard currency reserves of $7.5 billion, the East Germans could easily borrow on western markets. But they feel that they were burned once by the western banks and are not going to run the risk a second time.

"If we take new credits now, we will have to repay them in the 1990s. We are pursuing a cautious policy," Hunstock said.