By John S. McClenahen Far exceeding the consensus forecast for a 0.1% decline, the prices U.S. consumers paid for imported items ranging from autos to industrial materials fell 0.5% in April, the third consecutive month they have declined. Indeed, both the overall import price figure and the price figure for all imports except oil were down 0.5% from their March marks, indicates the U.S. Labor Dept.'s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prices for imported capital goods dropped 0.6% in April, their largest decrease since July 1999. The decline in import prices "will hasten a downturn in U.S. inflation," predicts economist Maury Harris at UBS Warburg LLC, New York. And that prospect might encourage the Federal Open Market Committee to cut U.S. short-term interest rates by 50 basis points -- rather than a more cautious 25 basis points -- when it meets next Tuesday, May 15.