Expanding U.S. trade with East and Southeast Asia offers a potentially lucrative new market for local Maryland firms, while the region could benefit by courting more Asian direct investment, a local Asia expert has told a group of Montgomery and Prince George's County businessmen.

Washington lawyer Carl J. Green, a member of the board of directors of the Pan-Pacific Community Association, which promotes Pacific-nation trade, told a business luncheon group in Bethesda Friday to look to Japan as "the largest and most exciting market in Asia." He added that Korea and China have been moving toward liberalizing trade with more favorable tax laws and foreign investment codes.

Green told the group, the 65-member Suburban Maryland International Trade Association (SMITA), that Asia is rapidly overtaking Western Europe as America's largest trading partner, with Japanese trade now reaching $60 billion each year. He cautioned that the new relationship is not without "a great deal of friction"--including a rising tide of protectionism--brought on by worldwide recession, unemployment in this country and a growing trade deficit.

The two Maryland counties bordering Washington--particularly Montgomery, with its concentration of high-technology industries--stand to benefit by exploiting the Asian markets. "When the high-technology firms expand their markets overseas," said SMITA founding member Duc Duong of Montgomery's Office of Economic Development, "then they expand their facilities here, and employ more local people."

On the other hand, Duong said Montgomery is trying to take advantage of the increased Asian investment here by courting major Asian firms and touting Montgomery as a place to do business. "We are aggressively trying to get foreign companies to invest here," said Duong, who added that Montgomery hoped to announce within a month "a major investment by a major Japanese firm in the biomedical field."

Prince George's has been courting foreign investment less actively, leaving it mostly to the state government to market suburban Washington as a plum site for foreign investment.