NEW YORK — As if apparel executives don’t have enough to worry about, between the shaky retail environment and uncertain effect on sourcing of the continuing SARS outbreak in Asia, nowthey’re facing another hike in the cost of shipping goods from the Far East to the U.S. This month, most new contracts covering Pacific shipping take effect. And as some importers go down to the wire in their negotiations, the carriers are pushing for increases of $700 to $1,200 on each 40-foot container of cargo they transport. That represents a sizable chunk of the approximately $2,000 per trunk importers paid during the last contract period, though sources said many companies have talked down the proposed hikes and will pay a significantly smaller amount.

Since the shipping industry was reformed in the late Nineties, contract rates have been negotiated in secret between carriers and their customers.

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