WASHINGTON (AP) _ Executives from small manufacturing companies expect a sales decline and flat profits this year, according to a trade group survey released Tuesday.

The executives, who head firms with 500 or fewer employees, also anticipate tighter credit and expect to reduce their investment spending, the National Association of Manufacturers said.

''For most members, it appears that sales are starting to move downward,'' said J. Walter Kisling, chairman of the group's Small Manufacturer's Forum. Kisling heads Multiplex Company Inc., a manufacturer of drink dispensing equipment in Ballwin, Mo.

The survey of 2,531 executives showed that 40 percent expected flat or declining sales, up from 25 percent who were pessimistic a year ago. Sixty-two percent anticipated steady or falling profits, up from 47 percent.

Sixty percent looked ahead to investing the same or less to improve their business, up from 44 percent. Fourteen percent said it was more difficult to obtain financing, up from 8 percent a year earlier.

The association also said 72 percent of the executives reported that less than 5 percent of their companies' revenues came from exports, a modest improvement from 78 percent last year.

''It is clear that small manufacturers aren't entering the global economy as fast as they ought to be, or as fast as they can,'' Kisling said.

Jerry Jasinowski, president of the trade group, called on the federal government to do more to help small firms export.

Federal spending on export assistance is ''so modest ... it's almost off the chart,'' he said.