UK importers risk being driven out of business by global companies dominating the shipping of goods from Asia to Europe as prices hit record levels, industry experts warn.

Smaller firms with shipping contracts for Christmas stock agreed at prices significantly below the present market rate also face their consignments being left unloaded at the docks unless they accept higher prices. Freight rates have soared since last October due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, changes in consumer behaviour and incidents such as the blockage of the Suez Canal.

The price of shipping a 40ft container from China to the UK at the start of July hit $13,919, up from $1,789 a year ago, according to the research firm Xeneta.