The United States and Soviet Union will double the number of joint trade-promotion programs next year in a drive by the Bush administration to keep the collapsing Soviet economy on the path toward liberalization and to help the government of Mikhail Gorbachev, administration officials said.

The decision to double the number of trade-promotion events to 18 was made at a subcabinet-level meeting of the Joint U.S.-Soviet Commercial Commission last week in London. This meeting was the first since President Bush announced Dec. 12 that the United States would offer up to $1 billion in credit guarantees for Soviet purchases of U.S. food.

Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III have said the United States was moving to normalize trade relations with the Soviet Union to help it avoid political instability at a time when the economy appears to be unraveling.

The atmosphere at the London meeting was the best since sessions were resumed in 1985, said Commerce Undersecretary J. Michael Farren, who chaired the meeting and was present at the Moscow meeting in 1985.

But participants reported that the sudden resignation of Soviet Foreign Minister Edward Shevardnadze cast a pall over the final day's session, as both sides realized that the smooth commercial relations between the two superpowers could disappear if there is a brutal crackdown on dissent in the Soviet Union or if steps toward democratization are short-circuited.

Aiming to prevent that kind of political instability, U.S. officials said that top priority will be given to helping the Soviets increase their oil and gas exploration and production capabilities, which has sagged so badly in recent years that the Soviet Union is one of the few oil-producing nations not to gain an economic bonanza from the price rise in crude oil.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher led a business delegation to Moscow in September that was top-heavy with officials from U.S. energy firms. Farren said the Soviets know where their energy resources are located and understand they are unable to exploit them fully without more sophisticated production technology.

"It is a tremendous opportunity for the United States {because} production is declining and the Soviets need U.S. technology to provide the basic help" in producing oil and gas, Farren said.

Furthermore, oil and natural gas are some of the few Soviet products that earn the hard currency Moscow needs to buy Western technology and machinery to upgrade its industrial base. Farren said one of the benefits to the United States from increased Soviet energy production is that the Soviet Union will have the cash to buy U.S.-made industrial machinery.

Hard currency is in such short supply that the Soviets now owe between $100 million and $200 million to 22 U.S. companies. U.S. officials said American firms are better off than their competitors in other Western nations. Six U.S. companies have been paid in full, Farren said, and another six have received partial payments.

British companies are owed as much as $400 million, and Japanese companies are owed as much as $500 million. Debts to German firms also were high, but the Bonn government took care of them by offering credits used to pay off the German companies.