Romania Table of Contents
Before World War II, the West accounted for more than 80 percent of Romania's foreign trade. During the postwar period up to 1959, however, nearly 90 percent of its trade involved Comecon nations. The Soviet Union was by far the most important trading partner during this period. But the PCR's insistence on autarkic development led Romania into direct confrontation with the rest of the Soviet bloc. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had envisioned an international division of labor in Comecon that would have relegated Romania to the role of supplier of foodstuffs and raw materials for the more industrially developed members, such as the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Czechoslovakia. In April 1964, however, General Secretary Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej threatened to take Romania out of Comecon unless that organization recognized the right of each member to pursue its own course of economic development.
As early as the 1950s, Gheorghiu-Dej had begun to cultivate economic relations with the West, which by 1964 accounted for nearly 40 percent of Romania's imports and almost one-third of its exports. When Ceausescu came to power in 1965, the West was supplying almost half of the machinery and technology needed to build a modern industrial base. In 1971 Romania joined the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT--see Glossary) and the following year it won admission to the IMF and the World Bank. In 1975 Romania gained most-favored-nation trading status from the United States.
Between 1973 and 1977, Romania continued to increase its trade with the noncommunist world and initiated economic relations with the less-developed countries. In 1973 about 47.3 percent of its foreign trade involved the capitalist developed nations, with which it incurred a large trade deficit that necessitated heavy borrowing from Western banks. During this period, major obligations to the IMF (US$159.1 million) and the World Bank (US$1,502.8 million) were incurred.
To gain greater access to nonsocialist markets, Romania set up numerous joint trading companies. By 1977 twenty-one such ventures were in operation, including sixteen in Western Europe, three in Asia, and one each in North America and Africa. Romania held at least 50 percent of the start-up capital in these companies, which promoted its manufactured goods and agricultural products abroad. In 1980 Romania became the first Comecon nation to reach an agreement with the European Economic Community (EEC), with which it established a joint commission for trade and other matters.
During the 1980s, however, trade relations with the West soured. Ceausescu blamed the IMF and "unjustifiably high" interest rates charged by Western banks for his country's economic plight. For its part, the West charged Romania with unfair trade practices, resistance to needed economic reform, and human rights abuses. In 1988 the United States suspended most-favored-nation status, and the following year, the EEC declined to negotiate a new trade agreement with Romania. Meanwhile, attempts to increase trade with the less-developed countries had also met with disappointment. After peaking in 1981 at nearly 29 percent of total foreign trade, relations with these countries deteriorated, largely because the Iran-Iraq War had cut off delivery of crude oil from Iran.
Frustrated by the downturn in trade with the West and the lessdeveloped countries, Romania reluctantly returned to the Soviet fold during the 1980s. By 1986 socialist countries accounted for 53 percent of its foreign trade. But the Ceausescu regime continued to assert its independence, refusing to endorse the Comecon program that would allow enterprises to circumvent routine bureaucratic channels and establish direct business relationships with enterprises in other member countries. And he refused to cooperate in Comecon attempts to establish mutual convertibility of the currencies of the member states (see table 6, Appendix).
Data as of July 1989
Romania Table of Contents