In "Slouching Toward Seattle" [editorial, Oct. 17], The Post observes that next month's World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle needs leaders who will make a strong case for the importance of trade to global prosperity. In an Oct. 13 speech, however, President Clinton seemed instead to open the door for activist groups to link their special interests to trade negotiations.

The benefits of open trade to people in both developed and developing countries are incontrovertible. Those benefits, however, could be undermined if -- under the guise of social and environmental rhetoric -- the World Trade Organization sanctions protectionism and nontariff trade barriers.

The administration's Seattle agenda would go a long way down that road by giving nongovernmental organizations unprecedented power to intervene in WTO matters through lawsuits and the creation of institutional structures to increase consultations with NGOs.

The Clinton agenda also proposes a WTO Working Group on Trade and Labor, even though another international entity already focuses exclusively on labor issues.

Trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati recently pointed out that trying to implement two objectives -- the freeing of trade and advancing social and moral agendas -- through one policy instrument such as the World Trade Organization would undermine both.

Dr. Bhagwati and other economists see the importance of social, humanitarian and environmental concerns but argue that those issues can better be advanced in their own venues. Open trade is too important to be held hostage to self-appointed and unelected groups.

FRANCES B. SMITH

Executive Director

Consumer Alert

Washington