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RHA Group to Join Soviets in Computer Deal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

RHA Group, a small Irvine trading company, has signed an agreement with a division of the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Transport Construction, establishing a joint venture company that will assemble personal computers in the Soviet Union.

The U.S.-Soviet venture, Arif, is 50% owned by RHA and 50% by the Soviet ministry’s computer division. The two partners will initially invest $500,000 each.

Paul H. Armstrong, RHA’s president, said Arif will buy computer components “from throughout the world via the RHA Group.” Roughly 90% of the IBM-compatible computers to be assembled by the venture will be sold in the Soviet market. The rest will be exported to Eastern Europe for payment in hard currencies, Soviet rubles or through bartered trade agreements, he added.

Andre Lefebvre, an RHA vice president, was named assistant director-general of the venture. He will be based in Moscow.

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Arif plans to hire 30 Soviet workers to assemble the computers at a plant in the Moscow area, Armstrong said. At the height of production, the company is expected to turn out about 1,000 computers a month.

RHA will need to apply for export licenses from the U.S. Commerce Department for the components that will be used in the assembly operation. Some previous U.S.-Soviet computer deals--including one announced last year by Phoenix Group International Inc. of Irvine--have encountered problems for various reasons, including bureaucratic delays and difficulties obtaining financing and licensing approvals.

The licensing problem may be resolved, however, if the 17-nation Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls decides to loosen export controls on low-level computer technology to the Soviet Union when the group meets in Paris in June. Dennis Kloske, undersecretary of commerce for export administration at the Commerce Department, said during a recent visit to Orange County that exporters of low-level computers should expect some easing of export control requirements later this year.

Armstrong said RHA plans to establish a subsidiary in Mission Viejo next month that will support RHA’s computer project in the Soviet Union.

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