IT APPEARS that the United States and Romania are on the way to working out the differences that threatened earlier this year to disrupt the trade and, in some measure, the political ties between them. The maverick communist state, hard pressed for big bucks to pay its debts, had foolishly gone after pennies by announcing it would require would-be emigrants first to pay for their state-financed education. Under the Jackson-Vanik emigration-for-trade amendment, President Reagan was left with little choice but to raise tariffs on Romanian exports. Amid general sourness, the change was to take place on June 30.

As it happened, the Romanian foreign minister came to Washington and indicated that his country would be able to satisfy the requirements of American law and Romanian sovereignty alike. It will not be a painless exercise for Romania, but Bucharest is an old and illusion-free hand at maneuvers designed to serve its national interest. Since the United States has its own interest in seeing Romania continue to practice its independent ways, the matter might have ended there, except for two other considerations.

The first is that the law, whose standards Romania was expected to meet, needs to be wiped off the books. Enacted in 1974 to facilitate Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, the Jackson-Vanik amendment had the immediate effect of staunching that flow and the subsequent effect of distorting American relations with other countries. It was especially intrusive and objectionable that the law should be applied to a place like Romania, a country that had East Europe's best record on Jewish emigration for several decades even before the law was passed and that has its own reasons for maintaining close ties with the United States.

The second consideration is the insulting and inept public comments on Romania made the other day by former congressman Edward J. Derwinski, who joined the State Department with the rank of counselor after being defeated for reelection last year. The fledgling diplomat suggested that, for the Romanian leadership, lifting the education tax involved "a major retreat" under American pressure. And that was not all. Mr. Derwinski was not merely breathtakingly indiscreet. He showed an abysmal misunderstanding of the nature and the facts of American-Romanian relations. Some counselor.