President Carter said at a state dinner last night that the economic summit meeting starting tomorrow would not solve all pressing world economic problems, but intimated that a summit of limited success would be better than no summit at all.

At the banquet in his honor, Carter said the summit would renew commitment "to global economic wellbeing" with an effort to end inequities between nations and classes. He called for an effort to distribute the world's riches to provide "a better life in the poor two-thirds of the world."

While Carter approached the summit meeting with "optimism," he said he recognized "we will not find all the answers at this one meeting, as we did not resolve all problems at our last meeting."

He then listed the broad objectives that he said were shared by the United States and West Germany. Leaders of the other nations participating - Britain, France, Canada, Italy, and Japan - do not join the talks until tomorrow.The European Economic Community will also be represented by its president, Roy Jenkins.

Carter cited with approval a comment last year by Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda that the Great Depression might have been averted if the leaders of that period had met again after the London Economic Conference in 1930.

Carter only referred indirectly to the U.S. dollars, by paying tribute "to your remarkable deutschemark." Earlier at a Bonn city hall reception, he saw at least one sign that read "Save the Dollar."

A general mood of lowered expectations was underscored by other developments. Special trade representative Robert Strauss admitted at a briefing that the trade talks completed Thursday in Geneva "had failed to come to grips" with the political commitment hoped for earlier "in some substantial measure."

Although Strauss said that we are "80 to 85 percent (of) the way home" to a multilateral trade negotiation, he carefully labeled a year's labor at Geneva merely as "a framework of understanding."

In past weeks, both Strauss and Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal said that agreement in principle on the multilateral trade negotiations would be crucial to success of the summit. They had hoped to have it initialed here. Thursday night, Strauss set the end of the year as a new deadline.

Strauss put the best face possible on the uncompleted trade negotiations, observing that for the first time in 16 years, the several nations involved had addressed the question of nontariff barriers. He admitted, however, that draft codes on such subjects were only in tentative form.

There was little doubt that the progress in Geneva had fallen short of hopes. A major problem is the refusal of Japan to offer the deep tariff cuts the United States considered necessary, in view of the $20 billion Japanese trade surplus.

"They refused to take a leadership role, and it's high time they did since they're the third leading economic power in the world," said deputy trade representative Alan Wolff.

The United States also failed to shake the Common Market's unified position on "selective safeguards." This is a device used by countries to guard against a massive penetration of imports. The United States and West Germany wanted to establish strict international surveillance of the use of such measures.

The West Germans have been out-voted on this issue in the Common Market by the British and French. The Scandinavian member countries are also on the protectionist side. All Strauss would say on this issue is that "we have a long way to go."

Strauss labeled the partial agreement "a major achievement in our road toward bringing the Tokyo round to the kind of conclusion that was our mandate." He said that the tariff cuts would be one or two points above or below the 35 percent achieved in trade talks held during the Kennedy administration. This implies that the 40 percent in tariff cuts that had been set as a goal was not reached.

In another development, German Finance Minister Hans Matthoefer said he was strongly opposed to an income tax cut in Germany, "because if we want to improve (economic) growth, that's not the way." Matthoefer said that because the German Cabinet was deeply divided on the issue of a tax stimulus, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt will have to be as vague on tax cuts at the summit as Carter will be on energy reduction.

Matthoefer acknowledged that in recent days he suggested a tax reduction of 12 billion deutschemarks, designed to help low and middle income groups. But, he said he had suggested that the lost revenue be recaptured by increasing the value added tax, a sales tax, by two points.