Companies importing large amounts of containerized cargo from the Far East will face a more liberal pricing regime from ocean carriers.

New guidelines just announced for service contracts between shippers and the ocean carriers who belong to the Asian North American Eastbound Rate Agreement, or Anera, reveal that the "caps" have been removed for the number of containers that can receive lower-cost service contracts rates.Anera, which represents carriers in the trade from the Far East (except Japan) to North America, announced Thursday it will allow shippers to move more of their containers at lower rates beginning May 1. Caps in the past held shippers to a certain level of boxes that could be shipped at the discounted rate.

But importers on the West Coast remain upset that Anera on May 1 will implement its previously announced $300 general rate increase.

West Coast importers feel the lump-sum increase discriminates against them

because it represents a higher percentage increase for them than for their counterparts on the East Coast face.

Anera, using its new guidelines, will now begin negotiating service contracts for the period from May 1 to April 30, 1991.

Service contracts are an important element in a conference's rate-setting schedule. These contracts offer favorable freight rates and specified levels of service to shippers in exchange for minimum volume commitments. About 60 percent of the cargo carried by Anera member lines moves under service contracts.

Importers obviously like service contracts because they benefit from lower freight rates. However, shippers in the trans-Pacific have been limited as to the number of containers that can qualify for the lower rates in service contracts.

Carriers have defended these caps, saying they keep shipper associations

from becoming solarge that they can force rates down to non-compensatory levels as their volume of shipments increases.

Other carriers say that if a shipper fills its minimum volume commitment early on in a contract, it can then negotiate another contract at higher rates.

Anera's announcement that it will remove the caps won immediate praise from shippers. "We as a shippers' association are very happy that the cap is removed," said Hubert Wiesenmaier, executive director of the American Import Shippers Association, a New York-based group that represents textile importers.

"We can go out now to our members and get their commitments for the coming year," he said.

Mr. Wiesenmaier added, however, that importers still are not happy that Anera will push ahead on May 1 with a $300 rate increase per 40-foot container.

This will be the second consecutive year Anera is imposing a lump-sum rather than a percentage rate increase, as had formerly been its practice.

Mr. Wiesenmaier said West Coast importers will be hardest hit by this increase. He noted, for example, that the $300 increase represents a 15 percent increase on a $2,000 shipment to the West Coast, vs. only a 10 percent increase to East Coast importers where the longer distance might command a $3,000 rate.

Eugene Milosh, president of the American Association of Exporters and Importers in New York, noted that the U.S. retail industry is undergoing tough times, but said shippers can live with a rate increase as long as it is not extremely large.

Albert A. Pierce, Anera managing director, responded: "We are certainly sensitive to the difficulties experienced by our importing and retailing customers.

"At the same time, carriers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in long-rage capital improvement programs for the trans-Pacific trade. Those

investments cannot be rapid at 1985 rate levels."