EACH IS a popular first-term Democratic governor of a state bordering the District of Columbia and seeking new economic development anywhere it can be found -- but there's a world of difference in the approaches of Maryland's William Donald Schaefer and Virginia's Gerald L. Baliles. Last week, that difference was underscored significantly: while Gov. Schaefer was in Maryland complaining about Japanese under-cutting of American prices, Gov. Baliles was in Michigan impressing the National Governors' Association with an informed analysis of the role of individual states in the world economy -- and how to get a leg up in international trade.

Mr. Schaefer no doubt will win some cheers for his bleat: "America is always last. I'm tired of it." There will probably be some hoorays, too, for his order to state bureaucrats to do a week's study and find ways to Buy America and beat out the Japanese. But while Gov. Schaefer awaits a quick fix that may or may not materialize, Gov. Baliles is taking another course. "It's counterproductive to engage in Japan-bashing," he told fellow governors. "If you look at the trade statistics, Japan and West Germany account for 22 percent of this nation's trade. Canada accounts for 21 percent, but you don't hear people bashing Canada. What Japan does may be part of the problem, but it's not the total problem."

As part of his 1987 Year of Trade initiative, Gov. Baliles has traveled to Japan, China and several European countries and is scheduled for another Asian trip this fall. In Virginia as well as at the conference, his focus has been on finding ways to adjust to the global market. Earlier in July, for example, he announced plans for a $4 million addition to the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, aimed at enticing more European car-makers to that Virginia port. He said meetings in London with BMW, Fiat, Austin Rover and Volvo officials had generated strong interest in a "common-user" automobile import facility.

Maryland does have plans for a $15 million terminal for Toyota, complete with a new pier, that would move some 100,000 autos through Baltimore each year. These and similar projects may be enough to help Maryland keep up with change. Similarly, the governors' focus on other matters -- jobs, growth, transportation, finances, drug and alcohol abuse and housing -- may not be of any use to Gov. Schaefer, who "can't afford the time" to attend the governors' conference because he was "readying himself" for the Maryland legislative session -- which doesn't start until January.

It may be merely a question of styles and not substance -- but in terms of vision, at least, there appears to be more on the horizon in Richmond than in Annapolis.