The president of a U.S.-Soviet trade council meeting here this week contended today that Washington's efforts to alter policies in Moscow through trade restrictions should give way to a more positive approach.

"Many of us are asking whether we have used the stick long enough and whether we should start to use the carrot. After all, 10 years [of restrictions] have not got us much," said President James Giffen of the nongovernmental U.S.-U.S.S.R. Trade and Economic Council at a press conference.

A large and high-powered contingent of U.S. businessmen is here for the meeting that both Americans and Soviets are calling the first major spinoff of last month's summit meeting. Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige accompanied 450 American businessmen and officials.

"I can only think that the Geneva summit had something to do with" the increased interest, said Giffen, adding that at the last meeting, in 1982, only 250 Americans attended.

Echoing the same theme, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda made a direct link between the summit and improved trade relations, which, it said, create the "material fabric . . . for building up an atmosphere of trust."

The trade council has been critical of various official U.S. restrictions placed on Soviet trade, which its spokesmen say have only hurt American business in an increasingly competitive market.

Total trade between the two countries jumped dramatically last year to $3.2 billion, but the upsurge was due to shipments of American grain. In nonagricultural areas, trade has fallen off since the deterioriation of relations in the late 1970s.

General Electric, IBM and Du Pont are among companies represented at the meeting. A chartered Boeing 747 jet that arrived yesterday with the businessmen and Baldrige also brought San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and former ambassador Robert Strauss.

According to trade council officials, the number of businessmen interested in the meeting increased markedly after President Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva last month. Baldrige's attendance was not confirmed until after Geneva, they said.

Few here expressed expectations that the meetings would produce any dramatic change in the balance sheet of U.S.-Soviet trade.

At a dinner for the group tonight, Baldrige cautioned that the Reagan administration sees "significant improvements" in trade ties as possible only in the context of improvement in other aspects of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. But he stressed that a modest improvement had already begun, citing his visit here last May -- when the joint governmental Commercial Commission met for the first time in seven years.

Baldrige noted that this year, American firms have picked up $185 million in new machinery and equipment orders from the Soviet Union, more than doubling last year's level.

Giffen said it was likely that American companies would participate in new Soviet energy projects -- in the Barents Sea among other sites -- in exchange for energy exports, serving to rectify the current trade imbalance in favor of the United States.

Giffen noted that the Soviets still doubt the reliability of American traders since, in the Soviet view, the 1985 U.S. export act did not foreclose the kind of trade embargoes that have been applied in the past.