California Gov. George Deukmejian had a point to make when he invited trade ministers from Canada, the European Community, Japan and the United States to lunch here last week.

So he served them an all-California menu, from salad to the two wines, an Iron Horse Champagne and a Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay.

"We wanted to give them a subtle message that we can source from within if we want. But we believe there are great benefits to free trade," said Gregory Mignano, executive director of the California State World Trade Commission.

California takes trade seriously. The state spends $10 million a year to promote foreign sales by its farmers and industries, and the trade commission decided last week to open two overseas offices, in London and Tokyo.

In addition, it will station one of its staff members, Isabella D. Kaliszczak, in Washington to make sure California's interests are protected in a new round of global trade talks expected to start later this year.

While California's trade activities are considered greater than those of other states, U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Bruce Smart, here for the trade ministers' meeting, said they reflect an intensified interest on the part of state governments in promoting overseas sales.

"This state is probably more dependent on trade than any other state in the union," said Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), who entertained the trade ministers at a dinner with state business leaders Saturday night.

In his luncheon speech to the trade ministers Friday, Deukmejian called California "our nation's gateway to the Pacific Rim" and "a world within a state.

"Our state is an international powerhouse," he told the trade ministers. "If we were a separate country, our economy would rank as the world's seventh largest. The $85 billion in annual trade through California's world-call ports would put us among the top trading nations as well."

San Diego, never considered an industrial city, now exports $3 billion in products a year, mostly to the Far East. The city is competing with Los Angeles for export help from the state and federal governments, and last week the U.S. Commerce Department opened a branch office here of its International Trade Administration.

In pleading for other countries to lower their import barriers, Deukmejian cited California as "an international model of success" that has "benefited enormously from an open trading system."

But like the rest of the United States, California farmers and industries are being buffeted by a surge of imports and the state's traditional free-trade philosophy is being eroded by what it sees as other countries' protectionist practices that restrict its exports.

California still is the prime American consumer of Japanese products, and more foreign-made cars are seen on the roads of California than any other state.

But observers here note changes.

"We have a devil of a time getting products to Japan," a Wilson aide said. California oranges, for instance, cost twice as much in Tokyo as Hong Kong because of Japan's import quotas.

California wineries would like duties lifted on their shipments to Japan, and its high-technology companies are attacking the Japanese for flooding the American market with semiconductor chips while refusing to buy large amounts of chips made in the United States.

"Five years ago, we were at the forefront of not being for any facet of protectionism," said Richard Kjeldsen, international economist at Security Pacific National Bank in Los Angeles.

Although California still is less protectionist than the "rustbowl" states of the Midwest, Kjeldsen said, "I've just noted over time, talking to businessmen, that the sentiment is changing."