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Romanian Reform Efforts Progress Only Ploddingly

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WHILE Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic move toward integration with the West, Romania - battered by high inflation, rising unemployment, and falling wages - is struggling to feed, clothe, and house its own people.

The Romanian government, which includes many cronies of the late dictator Nicolae Ceausecu, promises to accelerate a process of privatization and embrace other market reforms.

``I think Romania will become the success story in [Eastern] Europe over the next few years after we pass through this difficult ... transition,'' says parliamentary deputy Adrian Nasase, head of the ruling Party of Social Democracy.

Tight monetary policies have begun to tame inflation. Higher interest rates and increased reserve requirements enacted by the central bank last October have lowered the annual inflation rate to about 100 percent, according to Dan Pascariu, chairman of the Romanian Bank of Foreign Trade. In 1993, inflation neared 300 percent.

President Ion Iliescu's government has eliminated subsidies on consumer goods and plans to restructure or close inefficient state-owned companies, Mr. Pascariu says. ``My personal opinion is that we have bottomed out.''

Some economic indicators support this view. Overall gross domestic product grew by 1 percent last year, compared with a 15 percent drop in 1992, according to the National Statistics Commission. Agricultural production jumped 12.4 percent, testimony to the successful government policy of returning farmland to its original owners.

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