As changes in the Soviet Union begin to relieve the economic stagnation that has plagued the country all century, the United States will gain a greater share of trade to the Communist world.

But a true, reciprocating trade relationship is far off because the Soviet Union has very few goods - other than natural resources - that would sell well in the West.Japan was in a similar situation. Remember when "Made in Japan" meant something cheap, shabby and disposable? Today, Japanese products are sought after worldwide, and the challenge facing Western countries involves breaking into the Japanese market with foreign goods.

One major reason the Soviet Union has a paucity of goods to offer the global market stems from its political system, which has done little to stimulate economic growth, industrial competitiveness or product creativity. But a repressive society can, on occasion, become a major factor in world trade.

The Mauryan empire in India is an example of a tightly controlled political system that nonetheless became a key player in world trade.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., the domain he fashioned in India all but vanished. Then a soldier named Chandragupta Maurya gained control of a large state in India, founding a dynasty that flourished for almost 250 years.

Considered by some the first emperor of India, Chandragupta ruled with an iron hand and kept trade open between his kingdom, China and the West. His lands were divided into provinces administered by state officials and about 30 imperial departments, which managed everything from revenues and public buildings to canal irrigation.

At the same time, a well-run war office maintained a large army that kept order and stood ready for war at a word's notice. In a commentary written by Chandragupta's chief minister, it was clear that conquest by any means was the name of the game.

As in the Soviet Union, all lands belonged to the state, with agriculture the main revenue generator. Yet trade prospered in the city bazaars, and goods from other parts of India, Asia, China and the West were available. Products made within the empire traveled caravan routes as far as the Greek city-states, with everything from weapons and farm tools to cotton cloth and silk yarn available for sale.

Once the rulers in the Soviet Union decide that economic progress demands certain freedoms and better management, their country can enter the world marketplace competitively. Apparently their system of tight state control contributed to their dismal performance as a producer and a world trading power.

Some 2,300 years ago, an Indian ruler and his successors figured out a way to maintain control and prosper simultaneously. It was an experiment that worked for a long time before the dynasty disappeared, leaving the modern world with two rather clear-cut choices. That third choice seems to be lost forever.