THEY CAN'T SINK ALL THOSE cargo ships steaming this way, laden with cars and video recorders -- although they might want to.

Many states are finding other ways to fight the loss of jobs caused by the flood of imports. Some are giving special help to companies that are involved in export trade. The assistance ranges from market surveys and seminars to loans and tax deductions. The states count about 25 to 30 new jobs for each $1-million increase in exports.

The hottest new assistance programs help exporters attack an old enemy -- the tightfisted banker. When an exporter exhausts its line of credit, it can't finance a new order from overseas. "But, if the state comes to my bank and says, 'We guarantee that,' what's the bank going to say? It's going to give me the loan," says Charles Nevil, president of The Meridian Group, a Los Angeles export management firm.

Minnesota's financing agency, the first in the nation, opened 15 months ago and has guaranteed loans that will enable six small businesses to export $3 million in merchandise. Fourteen other states, including California, have added their own programs, while 11 more states have legislation pending.

A few states want to stimulate exports by giving companies a tax deduction on any increase in sales abroad. Mississippi passed a law last year allowing such a deduction, but isn't implementing it because federal officials say the law violates trade treaties. "We figured we were going to have difficulty with it," says Bill McGinnis, marketing director of the Mississippi Department of Economic Development. "What we were trying to do was make a statement that, hey, your small and medium-size businesses need incentives."

South Carolina has developed a tax proposal that may skirt the treaties. Gov. Richard W. Riley has supported a tax deferral for exporters, which would have to pay interest on the taxes they saved, but wouldn't have to repay the principal unless they stopped exporting. If federal regulators approve the plan, other states will undoubtedly copy it.