The Romanian government, faced with new White House and congressional demands for improved human rights performance, has renounced American trade benefits given to communist countries with liberal emigration policies, U.S. officials said yesterday.
State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said Romania informed the United States that it will "renounce" the trade concessions, subjecting Romanian goods to higher tariffs as of July 2. Romanian sources say their country could lose up to $250 million in trade with the United States.
Romania also will lose eligibility for U.S. government-supported export credits through the Commodity Credit Corp. or the Export-Import Bank, Oakley said.
The decision reflects the deterioration of relations between the United States and Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu, who has been wooed by U.S. administrations in the past because of his relatively independent line from Moscow.
Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead told Ceausescu in Bucharest three weeks ago of U.S. dissatisfaction with human rights policies. Whitehead later said Ceausescu replied, in essence: Stop meddling in our internal affairs.
Since 1975, U.S. presidents have persuaded Congress to waive a rule barring a "most-favored-nation" right to reduced tariffs for Romania.
Under the Jackson-Vanik amendment, East-bloc countries that expand emigration by Jews and other ethnic groups are eligible for most-favored status on an annually renewable basis.
Romania, Poland and Hungary have been recipients.
Despite yesterday's announcement, Oakley said Romania "stated to us that it will continue to allow emigration for family reunification purposes, without relation to economic ties with the United States. We welcome this."
She said Romania also expressed a desire to continue to work for better relations.
According to her figures, U.S. exports to Romania total $200 million annually, of which half are agriculture products. "We think trade will likely shrink."
Romanian exports to the United States totaled $775 million last year, she said.
In recent years, members of Congress increasingly have questioned whether Romania met the requirements for a waiver.
Stripping Romania of its most-favored-nation status has been under consideration by House-Senate negotiators working on new trade legislation.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), a sponsor of the trade-benefit cutoff, said of Ceausescu's action, "He has done this to preempt the annual scrutiny of Romania's human rights record, which is deplorable."