Jeff Barge argues [letters, Oct. 7] that the United States should lower trade barriers to Caribbean and Central America countries only if they are relatively high-wage countries. This suggests perversely that we would be doing workers in poorer countries a favor by denying them access to markets.

If low wages were the "cost advantage" Mr. Barge claims, Haiti would be the most industrialized country in the hemisphere. But it isn't. Instead, it is the least developed, with underunemployment at a staggering 60 percent to 70 percent.

Poverty in the region has many causes. Chief among them are the decades of political instability and civil war. This history has hindered economic development and continues to make investment in these countries risky.

But the headline given his letter, "Trade Incentives for Democracies Only," is misleading: All the countries covered by the legislation are democracies.

If we are concerned about the welfare of workers and the unemployed in the region, we should ask their authorized representatives if high U.S. tariffs on their products is a good idea. Most of the major labor federations of the region already have spoken: They favor lower trade barriers and access to markets. We should too.

MERRILL SMITH

Director

Haiti Advocacy Inc.

Washington