WTO CHIEF FEARS TRADE BACKLASH OVER ASIAN FLU \ WORLD ASKED TO KEEP MARKETS OPEN TO EXPORTS

WTO CHIEF FEARS TRADE BACKLASH OVER ASIAN FLU \ WORLD ASKED TO KEEP MARKETS OPEN TO EXPORTS

The World Trade Organization's chief asked major economic powers to open their markets to exports from Asian countries devastated by the financial meltdown.

Renato Ruggiero, WTO director-general, also urged them to resist any protectionist backlash that widening deficits might trigger.He told a session of the Asian Development Bank's annual meeting here the trade effects of the crisis ''are only now beginning to be felt.''

Mr. Ruggiero said that as a result of the crisis, ''trade accounts in a number of export markets can be expected to deteriorate, and perhaps significantly in some key traders.''

But Mr. Ruggiero stressed that part of the solution to restoring economic health to the region while avoiding a worldwide problem rests with the trade system.

Meanwhile, Fred Bergsten, president of the Washington-based Institute for International Economics, estimated the Asian crisis will deteriorate the trade balances of the United States and the European Union.

He predicted the U.S. trade deficit will be closer to $300 billion by the end of 1998, sharply up from the $225 billion of last year.

The deterioration in the trade balances will increase protectionist pressures in both the United States and the EU, Mr. Bergsten warned. But he also said the real economic effects of the Asian crisis are just being felt, and could result in backsliding on trade agreements because of expected increases in unemployment and bankruptcies in the affected Asian nations.

The deputy prime minister of Thailand and its minister of commerce, Panitchpakdi Supachi, echoed the sentiment of many other Asian leaders. ''We need the markets to remain open for us,'' he said.

The Thai official, however, said he was worried about what leaders may say about keeping markets open, and what they do. ''The U.S., to my mind, is keeping its market quite open to Thai exports,'' he said. But he added that he was more worried about Europe and Japan. A new round of trade liberalization talks, suggested Mr. Bergsten, could hold back the protectionist pressures and help assure Asian nations to stay on the path of liberalization.

Next month's WTO trade summit and ministerial meeting could be the right time to launch a new round of discussions that would provide a strategic vision for the global system. According to senior trade diplomats, the major powers have agreed that a new round will cover traditional areas like tariff reductions on industrial goods, services, and agriculture, and also new areas yet to be agreed by WTO members, such as trade and competition or trade and investment.

A major sticking pointing is whether the round will be a single undertaking - that is, nothing is agreed to until all areas are resolved, like the Uruguay round. The United States prefers a different approach: reaching agreement quickly in specific fields where possible, such as electronic commerce, and leaving more sensitive areas such as agriculture for resolution later.