A senior administration official said yesterday that Romania will lift its "education tax" on would-be emigrants to forestall loss of its favorable trade status with the United States. And he acknowledged that the administration probably will be forced by its allies to change its policy of refusing to reschedule Poland's official debts.
Edward J. Derwinski, counselor of the State Department, told the Overseas Writers at a luncheon that Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu's regime "has advised us in everything but official fashion that they're going to drop the education tax" in order to prevent a cutoff next month of Romania's "most-favored-nation" (MFN) trade benefits. Countries with MFN status receive the best tariff and trade treatment that the United States offers. Derwinski said that the main problem for the Romanians now is to find the most graceful way to cover their retreat.
He also said that by the end of July the United States "should have reached a decision in concert with its allies on rescheduling and recasting" Poland's debts.
He noted that since the United States holds only a small portion of that debt it does not have a great deal of leverage over its allies on that issue and will "have to go along with the consensus" if the other governments no longer want to follow the U.S. lead in refusing to discuss rescheduling.
President Reagan announced in March that if it keeps its "education tax," Romania will lose its favorable trade status June 30. That could mean losses of about $200 million a year to the east European communist nation, whose domestic economy and economic ties to the West already are in trouble.
The situation "is sticky in that it involves a major retreat by Ceausescu," Derwinski said. He added, though, that the Romanians now understand that they will lose their MFN status if they retain the tax and that Foreign Minister Stefan Andrei, who was here for talks last week, "was looking for ways to crawl off the limb as gracefully as possible."
Derwinski said that while the administration is "not sure of the form, yet," the situation is "at the point" where the Romanians "will publicly acknowledge" lifting the tax "in some way."
"It has to be public, and it has to be a formal, official position of their government," Derwinski said.
In his talks here, Andrei reportedly suggested that people wishing to leave Romania might, as a substitute for the tax, complete an extended period of national service to reimburse the government for their education.
But Derwinski said, "They were advised that no subterfuge or disguised efforts to interfere with emigration would be acceptable."
Regarding Poland, he said that, despite discussions within NATO of a gradual dismantling of sanctions against the military regime there, it is doubtful that any action will be taken until there is a clearer picture of whether Pope John Paul II's June visit to Poland will result in an easing of repression.
During recent confidential discussions in Europe, Assistant Secretary of State Richard R. Burt reportedly suggested that the allies explore ways to lift sanctions gradually, with each step conditioned on reciprocal action by the Polish authorities.
If a "surprising liberalization" does occur, Derwinski said, "it would trigger a broad-ranging U.S. review" of sanctions. But, he added, the United States does not expect such a liberalization to occur and that its main emphasis at present is on discussing with other creditors how to handle the Polish debt situation, with late July a tentative target for agreement.
He noted that of Poland's roughly $27 billion in foreign debt, only about $3 billion is owed to the U.S. government and American banks.