A coalition of U.S. chemical companies is negotiating with Congress and the

Drug Enforcement Administration on ways to control domestic and international trade in chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs.

The ad hoc group of chemical manufacturers and distributors expects to reach an agreement soon with the drug-enforcement agency and the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on crime to regulate a dozen or more chemicals used by illicit drugmakers.The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. William Hughes, D-N.J., seeks a workable means of allowing the DEA to track these chemicals. The envisioned system involves notification by the companies before they ship such chemicals, with a provision for the DEA to request shipment delays when it sees fit.

The group is much closer to agreement with the subcommittee on domestic and import controls than on export controls. The subcommittee drafts thus far have amounted to an export license, said Dick Patterson, Dow Chemical Co.'s manager of government relations.

The chemicals that would be covered include such common solvents as acetone and toluene, which represent 80 percent of the chemicals used to refine cocaine in South America, Mr. Patterson said.

Mr. Patterson is also the chairman of the international trade committee of the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, or Socma. He described the negotiations in a Journal of Commerce interview during the group's annual business meeting this week in Hilton Head.

The agreement will be in place by June 21 and will be included in one of three omnibus drug bills that were introduced in Congress over the past six weeks, Mr. Patterson predicted.

A drug abuse control bill likely will become a key issue during the upcoming presidential election campaign, he said.

He cautioned that the reporting process might generate an overwhelming volume of paperwork and hamper legitimate trade if the list of chemicals is too long or if all shipments are reported.

The industry group is urging that only suspicious shipments be reported, to limit trade interference.

In a draft agreement that was rejected by the industry group earlier this month, the subcommittee sought pre-notification five days before shipment and shipment delays of up to 25 days.

Such terms would hobble business that is based on quick deliveries, as in the case of one industry group member that offers its customers delivery within 48 hours of an order.

The industry group, which includes Dow, Eastman Kodak Co., PPG Industries Inc., Rohm & Haas Co., Shell Chemical Co., the Chemical Manufacturers Association, which is another trade group, Socma and chemical distributors, is concerned that delays in U.S. exports to legitimate users might cause some buyers to seek non-U.S. suppliers. If so, the final result would be to reduce the drug enforcement agency's tracking capabilities.

The impact of the diversion provision agreement on U.S. trade will be greatly affected by which chemicals appear on the list of regulated materials.

The congressional subcommittee's list includes chemical precursors, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are used widely to make non- prescription pharmaceuticals. It also includes chemicals that are essential in illicit drug manufacturing, such as the solvent acetone and acetic anhydride, used to make aspirin.

The sheer volume of trade in some of these chemicals, such as acetone, of which 4 billion pounds a year are produced by 10 major global companies, will complicate a reporting requirement that is not selective.

The chemical industry is already accustomed to tight controls over the smaller-volume domestic trade in pharmaceutical precursors, or chemical intermediates.

While the chemical industry is in support of the goal of the DEA . . . we want to find a method that is effective for them and practical for us, Mr. Patterson explained.

Work on the agreement has been under way since June 1987, when Rep. Hughes introduced a chemical diversion bill that, at congressional request, included proposals from U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese 3rd.