The collapse of the Soviet Union as a market for exports has been a ''disaster" for Czechoslovakia's economy, Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus claims.
In an interview Monday with Knight-Ridder Financial News, Mr. Klaus said: "Can you imagine (how) the efficient and innovative east Asian tigers like Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea would survive an overnight loss of the U.S. market? What would happen to them? And this is exactly the case in Czechoslovakia now."Until 1989, Czechoslovakia mainly sold its steel products, heavy
machinery and cars to the Soviet Union and the former East Germany, while importing large quantities of raw materials and energy.
Trade between the former member nations of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, known as Comecon, collapsed last year because of a decline in Soviet oil exports, the scrapping of the Comecon trade and payments system at the start of 1991 and as the former East Germany began to import
from the West, analysts at Credit Suisse First Boston said.
The impact on all former Comecon countries has been a massive external shock, forcing them to look elsewhere for trade.
Mr. Klaus said that in 1991 Czechoslovakia will "probably" be able to pay for its oil imports "if prices don't rise dramatically and there is the facility with the IMF (International Monetary Fund)." The IMF agreed in January to lend Czechoslovakia $1.78 billion to pay for reforms and to offset the cost of oil imports.
But Mr. Klaus said aid from the West is still needed. "This is not solving the short-term crisis. . . . . Credit is not a substitute for (exports) because credit does not buy our products. I cannot buy the products not sold in the Soviet Union with Western credit. . . . You still need the customers," he said.
What about Czechoslovakia's longer-term capital needs from foreign investment? "Instead of needs, I use the term demand . . . My needs are endless, but my demand is constrained by my budget," he said.
Attracting capital may be difficult while uncertainty hangs over the future of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. Nationalists in Slovakia - centered in the southern city of Bratislava - have formed a coalition to gain independence from Prague.
''It's a nuisance and complication, but not so dramatic," Mr. Klaus said, adding that such nationalist feelings are a "natural result" of 40 years of repression.
Mr. Klaus is a Czech and his wife a Slovak. "If the marriage has survived two decades, I think the federation will survive," he said.