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Poland's economy: toothpaste index up

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Poles can buy toothpaste and hair shampoo in the stores again.

That may not sound like much to Westerners accustomed to finding all they need - and much more - on local store shelves.

But for the past year, Poles have had to scour the black market to find those items. And their reappearance in the stores here is among a few straws in the otherwise chill wind indicating that industry has managed its first, tiny, upturn in productivity in two years.

Other straws: a 1 percent growth in output in August; expectation that rationing of soap and detergents will end by January; an improvement in work performance in some export industries (coal, copper, sulfur); the seasonal abundance of vegetables and fruit.

But the Polish economy has a long, long way to go to get back on its feet.

While news media economists profess to see the first glimmer of light at the end of Poland's long crisis tunnel, the government is warning of difficulties to come this winter: Despite some good agricultural results, meat supplies will fall off in the next few months. Part of the monthly 2 1/2 kilogram (10 pounds) per capita ration will probably be bone.

The economists say some further price increases are unavoidable, if a realistic price system - one of the main planks of reform - is to be attained.

In addition, shoes, stockings, socks, and other items of clothing will be rationed according to local need and availability. Already there are queues for socks, and they are almost as long as the meat lines before rationing.

The industrial upturn is still relative. From January through August enough coal was cut to ensure reaching this year's target - if the tempo is maintained. It is hoped that output will exceed 180 million tons.

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