Romania is giving serious consideration to lifting its "education tax" on would-be emigrants, thus forestalling retaliatory action by the Reagan administration, a senior Romanian official said in meetings here this week.
Congressional sources said Foreign Minister Stefan Andrei strongly suggested that the "education tax" will be removed in time for President Reagan's decision next month on the renewal of "most-favored-nation" trade benefits for Romania, formerly Washington's best contact within the Soviet bloc.
Reagan announced in early March that if the tax is kept Romania will lose its trade benefits on June 30. This action is likely to cost about $200 million yearly to the eastern European country, whose domestic economy and western economic ties are already in trouble.
A State Department announcement, following Andrei's talks with Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Undersecretary Lawrence S. Eagleburger, said only that the discussions on the emigration tax issue had been "positive." Spokesman John Hughes and other department officials declined to be more explicit.
Sources quoted Andrei as saying on Capitol Hill that "a great deal of consideration" is being given to lifting the tax. "He indicated that most likely something can be worked out," said a participant in the discussions.
On the other hand, Andrei was reported to have made some suggestions that an extended program of national service might be substituted for the tax, which is levied on would-be emigrants according to the extent of their high school or college education. Romania already requires college graduates to serve three years in relatively low-paying jobs selected by the state.
Some members of Congress were reported to believe that the imposition of extra work requirements for would-be emigrants would be even worse than the tax. The State Department reportedly cautioned Andrei against a major extension of the work rule.
The Romanian regime's maneuvering here takes place at a time of stress in its economic relations with Moscow. Reports from Europe said the Soviets recently rejected Romania's pleas for an economic rescue package. And Romania, along with Hungary, is reported to be resisting Soviet pressures to curb financial and technological dependence on the West.