The State Department, concerned by congressional moves to revoke Romania's trade benefits with the United States, said yesterday that when Secretary of State George P. Shultz visits Bucharest Dec. 15, he will warn Romanian leaders of "the need for continuing responsiveness to U.S. concerns" about their human rights record.
Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said the administration supports continued most-favored-nation status for Romania as "important in encouraging its relative foreign policy independence and in improving its human rights situation."
But Kalb noted that "several bills and resolutions have been introduced in Congress in recent months which would deny MFN most-favored-nation status to Romania." He added that Shultz's talks in Bucharest "obviously will include human rights and religious issues and the congressional climate regarding Romanian MFN."
Romania and Hungary are the only Soviet Bloc countries with most-favored-nation status, which allows goods to enter the United States at the lowest applicable tariffs. Last year, U.S.-Romanian trade reached a record $1.2 billion, with the balance tilted heavily in Romania's favor.
As a result, President Nicolae Ceausescu's government, which has been experiencing severe domestic economic problems, has a strong interest in retaining favorable access to the U.S. market for its petroleum products and other exports.
However, while Ceausescu follows an independent foreign policy course that Washington wants to encourage, he maintains a strict internal rule that has provoked frequent charges here of harassment against Christian groups and restrictions on Jewish emigration.
The State Department's latest semiannual report on compliance with the 1975 Helsinki accords, made public this week, said Romania's human rights record "continues to be poor."
That has led to increasing calls in Congress for punitive action from both liberal human rights advocates and conservatives motivated by American Christian groups. Two years ago, similar congressional threats to revoke most-favored status forced Romania to rescind an "education tax" that had restricted many of its citizens from emigrating.
Kalb said yesterday that "Romania's emigration performance has been better than most other East European countries or the Soviet Union." He noted that since 1975, the year Romania gained most-favored status, more than 150,000 persons have been allowed to emigrate to western countries.