German shippers are alarmed by reports that European transport ministers may torpedo their long campaign against shipping conferences that set intermodal charges.

Proposals in support of intermodal tariffs - for inland transportation as well as ocean freight rates - will be discussed when European Community transport ministers meet in Brussels today, German shippers and German transport ministry officials said.The German Shippers' Council lodged a formal complaint with the European

Commission in 1989 against inland rate setting by the Far Eastern Freight Conference, arguing that this practice is illegal.

German shippers, backed by other European shipper organizations, said EC law only allows shipping conferences to set rates for ocean transport. The EC's competition directorate has not issued a final ruling, but the decision will affect virtually every shipping conference.

If ministers recommend that inland rate setting should be allowed, it could kill the case brought by German shippers against the FEFC, German shipping officials said. The FEFC represents liner shipping companies operating between Northern Europe and the Far East and their members represent about half of the container shipping trade.

"Of course, we are worried that this draft will be discussed," said Susanne Clay, an official with the German Shippers' Council, in an interview last week. In a paper published earlier this month, the council renewed its vehement opposition to allowing shipping lines in a conference to issue intermodal tariffs.

Mrs. Clay said there were various proposals circulating in Brussels, but the Dutch are apparently the strongest supporters of inland rate setting.

Lutz Lange, an official in the German Transport Ministry in charge of international transport, said a variety of mid- and northern European governments want intermodal rate setting to be immune from EC laws banning cartels.

He said there are essentially four versions of the proposal for the exemption, varying according to the terms and conditions attached.

The German transport ministry supports conference-set intermodal tariffs as long as the rules are worded so as to avoid any discrimination against shippers.

EC transport ministers could adopt a general recommendation or a resolution calling for the exemption. A resolution would require unanimous approval from the 12 transport ministers. Mr. Lange said he wasn't sure that was obtainable, but he thinks a compromise will be reached.