C. Fred Bergsten [op-ed, Sept. 29] posited that any pause in negotiating trade liberalization would result in a "policy vacuum" that is "extremely dangerous." He advocated using any means, such as subregional agreements, to keep moving toward greater freedom for the movement of capital, goods and services around the world. But caution rather than speed is called for here.

The rules adopted through trade agreements are devised to open markets while sparing capital and business from almost anything that interferes with their pursuit of profits. Where local, state or national governments pass laws -- perhaps to protect clean air and water, to preserve biodiversity or to promote the health and well-being of their citizens -- these laws cannot stand without penalty if they conflict with trade rules.

While the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade focused primarily on tariffs and quotas, the World Trade Organization (WTO) also addresses non-tariff barriers to trade such as product standards, food safety laws and uses of public tax monies. In disputes, a panel of three judges can meet in secret and keep documents, briefs and hearings confidential. Only national government representatives can participate, even when state or local laws are challenged. The panel's rulings cannot be appealed, and because they're not elected, these judges can't be voted out of office.

The WTO has 134 member countries and 33 nations with observer status. "Globalization," governed by international trade agreements, means that if we find ourselves poorly governed, we may have nowhere on earth to go.

SUE BUCKLER

Gaithersburg