The Feb. 18 column by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak ("Trading for Emigr,es," op-ed) was in substantial error as to the Reagan administration's trade policies toward the Soviet Union and my personal role as head of an interagency delegation that visited Moscow in January.

The column implies that I was "pushed by oil and gas companies to go to Moscow to seek a major increase in trade," and that I was going to ignore human rights issues in discussions with Soviet officials. The column claims that, when the president found out, he personally changed my instructions so that human rights issues would be raised vigorously. It alleges that upon my return I made a misleading forecast that, in return for U.S. trade, massive increases in emigration would result. It alludes to a suspicion that the Commerce Department leaked the report to the press to gain support for trade among the American Jewish community and by "playing on the president's strong emotions on the human rights issue."

To begin with, I went to Moscow as head of an 11- person interagency delegation at the direction of the president to see if non-strategic, peaceful trade could be expanded and to help determine if Commerce Secretary Baldrige should meet with Soviet Trade Minister Patolichev. This was part of the president's effort to seek a "better working relationship" with the Soviet Union, one of three objectives he laid out for U.S.-Soviet relations in a Jan. 16, 1984, speech and repeated to the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Preparations for the delegation's trip took place over a four-month period, with discussions among all interested agencies. Human rights always were on our agenda. There was never a possibility they would not be raised "vigorously." As for strategic trade, our position has remained consistent from the beginning: that we would not discuss any changes in existing policies toward the Soviet Union, oil and gas or otherwise. I stated this publicly in advance of the meeting and to our partners in the multilateral system of export controls.

The president did issue personal instructions. I received them with satisfaction and enthusiasm because they embodied, without change, the recommendations and plans that the participating agencies had drafted during four months of work and because they reflected his deep personal commitment to human rights and free emigration, which I happen to share.

After returning from Moscow, neither I nor any other U.S. official made any forecast that "massive increases in Jewish emigration" would occur in return for more trade. Moreover, there was no report from Ambassador Arthur Hartman on Soviet "anger" over any such forecast. What the ambassador did report was the embassy's concern over the effect the leakage of sensitive documents might have on our ability to work with the Soviets in either trade or human rights.

The column concluded, "In fact there is no chance whatsoever that the Reagan administration would give Moscow these 'good relations' -- most-favored nation treatment and credits -- as a concession for Jewish emigration." While there has been no basis to consider such action, The Post's readers should know that the law authorizes the president, with the approval of Congress, to extend MFN treatment if doing so would substantially promote the objective of free emigration. Among communist countries, China, Hungary and Romania have been determined by this and prior administrations to meet the statutory standard.

The suggestion by Evans and Novak that the administration would not apply U.S. law in the case of the Soviet Union, even if the law's conditions were to be met, persuades me that their bias, and the probable source of the leak of the delegation's classified report, resides not in the Commerce Department, as the authors suggest, but rather with those cynics who proclaim that human rights are important, but who would willingly accept their absence as an alternative to the possibility of a "better working relationship" with the Soviet Union.