U.S. Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige said here today that the Reagan administration will move to end a 34-year-old ban on the sale of Soviet fur skins as part of an effort to expand U.S.-Soviet trade.
An agreement to introduce legislation on fur imports was one of the few practical results of a two-day meeting of the U.S.-Soviet Joint Commercial Commission, a ministerial-level trade group reconvened this week for the first time since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The lifting of the ban on the sale in the United States of certain Soviet furs, including mink, had been sought by American furriers, who noted the same furs bought elsewhere often make it back into American markets as finished products anyway.
Baldrige said some other results included agreement toward improved working conditions for businessmen, the resumption of seminars and trade promotion programs.
He told a press conference that his meetings with Soviet Foreign Trade Minister Nicolai Patolichev had succeeded in reestablishing "a mechanism" for easing frictions in U.S.-Soviet business dealings.
He would not comment on the contents of either his conversation yesterday with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, or the letter given Gorbachev on behalf of President Reagan.
He described Gorbachev as "self-confident," "articulate," and "very easy to talk to," and said only that the subject of Gorbachev's visit to the United Nations next fall -- where earlier reports had said Reagan might meet with him -- did not come up "in concrete terms."
Baldrige gave an overall cautious assessment of the state of U.S.-Soviet trade relations, noting that neither side committed itself to any change in policy. Trade between the two had dropped sharply at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, but it rose dramatically last year with huge Soviet purchases of U.S. grain.
Soviet statistics show a drop in Soviet exports to the United States to $352 million, while U.S. statistics show an increase to $602 million in 1984 -- a discrepancy explained partly by the U.S. purchases of Soviet fuel oil on the international market. U.S. figures put total trade at $3.8 billion last year.
Although the resumption of trade talks was seen last winter as a sign of a turn for the better in U.S.-Soviet relations, Baldrige today cautioned against high expectations.