U.S. trade officials were warned by their European allies this weekend that any American moves to tighten restrictions on textile imports could jeopardize world trade talks strongly favored by the Reagan administration.
But U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter brushed off the warning, which came during a meeting here of trade ministers from the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Community.
Yeutter expressed doubt that negotiations under way to reach a new textile agreement to replace the worldwide Multi-Fiber Arrangement (MFA), which expires July 31, have any link to planning for a new global trade round, which the Reagan administration would like to see start in September.
The new round was a major topic at the meeting, which ended tonight.
"We have to convince those who hesitate that it is in the interests of everybody -- not only the industrial nations, but the weakest as well as the most powerful -- to have a good working trade system. Free trade is not in the interest of one or two parties, but everybody," said Willy deClercq, the European Community's vice president of external relations.
A group of 20 developing nations, headed by Brazil and India, opposes a new round of negotiations to expand and strengthen the powers of the international agency that regulates world trade, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
They argue that industrialized nations such as the United States still haven't fulfilled the promise of past trade rounds to roll back barriers to Third World products, particularly textiles, for which import quotas are set by the MFA.
European sources here expressed concern that some Asian nations that have endorsed a new round, such as Taiwan, Korea and Thailand, might withdraw their support if the United States cuts back their sales of textiles, which are critical to their economies.
The Reagan administration, on the other hand, is under intense pressure from Congress to tighten restrictions on textile imports after vetoing quota legislation in November. Lawmakers from textile-producing states linked a tough U.S. stance at the MFA negotiations to a congressional attempt -- put off until August, after the MFA negotiations are over -- to override the veto.
Although the bill passed both the House and Senate, it fell short of the two-thirds margin needed to override a veto. Its supporters, however, hope a worsening trade picture will gain them more votes by August.
DeClercq told reporters the Europeans favor liberalizing textile imports, not tightening restrictions.
"But this greater flexibility could be put in danger if important trading partners do not play along the same lines," he added, referring to the United States.
"We cannot on the one hand ask the poorest countries to import more, open their markets and to pay their debts, and on the other side close our markets. That's not logical and not a very defensible attitude," he said.
Yeutter said he believes developing nations will react "favorably" to the U.S. position in the MFA talks, which he said will "properly balance the interests of importers and exporters."
He said, moreover, that the Reagan administration will try to persuade developing nations that it is in their interest to participate fully in a new round of trade talks.
"We do not see it as a zero-sum game in which we win and the less developed countries lose," Yeutter said at a briefing for U.S. reporters. "We believe we can make a very strong case . . . that every participant will be a net winner."
He added that the United States does not see it as a necessity that all 90 members of GATT take part in the talks, but predicted they will start "with significant participation." Preparatory talks are slated to begin Jan. 27.
Although there was broad agreement among the trade officials here on the need for a new round of global talks, they differed on the specifics of what the negotiations should accomplish.
The Reagan administration, for instance, wants to strengthen GATT's ability to settle trade disputes quickly, almost as an international court. But deClercq said the European Community opposes "changing the nature of GATT," which, since its founding in 1948, has operated by consensus.
The United States also wants to tackle the knotty problem of agricultural subsidies and to break down barriers to trade in services such as insurance, banking and engineering. This area drew objections from Third World nations, which fear their own infant service industries will be dominated by those of more experienced developed nations before they have a chance to mature.