BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) _ Futures exchanges would be able to engage in the arcane - but lucrative - trading of interest rate swaps and other hybrid financial products if they use electronic trading systems, under a plan proposed Thursday by a top federal regulator.

William Albrecht, acting chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, told an industry gathering here he has directed the agency's staff to draft a rule that would exempt futures exchanges from much of the regulation now imposed on them.

''While leaving the prohibitions against manipulation and fraud in place, it would create an exemption from most of the rules governing exchages where transactions are executed electronically and where customers meet certain standards,'' Albrecht told the annual meeting of the Futures Industry Association. He told reporters later it might be months before even a preliminary version of the rule change was submitted for public comment.

Swaps are unconventional securities distantly linked or derived from more typical financial products like stocks, bonds or commodities.

They are intended to protect businesses, especially those with overseas operations, against unforseen risks like a drop in interest rates in one part of the world or a sudden rise in a country's currency in another part.

Swaps and other derivatives are barely regulated but the market is estimated to total more than $4 trillion.

In a move to end legal uncertainties for swap dealers, the CFTC, which regulates the futures markets, agreed in January to formally exempt the big banks and brokerages that dominate the swaps markets from its rules.

But it did not exempt the futures exchanges, which complained bitterly the move gave their unregulated competitors an unfair advantage.

Saying that existing rules have to be re-examined, Albrecht proposed letting exchanges that deal with big institutional customers like pension funds enter the swaps market without going through the same costly and time- consuming approval process they do for other futures products like contracts tied to the value of Japanese yen or crude oil.

Albrecht's move was immediately hailed by the head of one exchange, Chicago Board of Trade Chairman Patrick Arbor, who said ''we're delighted and pleased with the exemption he proposes to extend to the exchanges.''

Arbor said the plan would favor electronic trading over the face-to-face open outcry system now employed at the Board of Trade but he wasn't concerned because the exchange's planned computerized trading device, AUDIT, will have the capability to track trades as well as an electronic trading system.

Albrecht said his proposal must clear several hurdles, including approval of his fellow commissioners before it can even be formally proposed for public comment.