Is the UK being disproportionately impacted by soaring freight prices due to Brexit?

Wed 8 Sept 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

sea freight

The ongoing effects and consequences of the pandemic, changing international trade rules and the rising prevalence of climate concerns have all weighed on global shipping over the last year.

Coronavirus-induced supply chain blockages and rising consumer demand as governments have eased lockdown restrictions have led shipping lines to significantly raise freight rates.

But, following Brexit and the ongoing driver shortage in the country, is the UK being disproportionately impacted?

UK-wide analysis

2021 has seen record numbers of container ships ordered, but analysis by the FT suggests the current shipping container capacity shortfall is having a bigger impact on UK operators.

It reveals rates for UK exporters have increased, but also that the gap between shipping lines’ most favoured customers has widened too.

It says: “The gulf between the cheapest and most expensive rates in both the UK and the northern EU means that big companies favoured by the lines will almost certainly paying less to ship goods from China than to smaller rivals”.

This analysis is supported by data from Logistics UK, which reports on that the cost of importing shipping containers from China to the UK has risen by up to 800%.

‘Worldwide crisis’

County Armagh furniture salesman Pearse Dynes said the rise in costs represented a “worldwide crisis” adding: “Pre-Covid, shipping costs for a 20ft container from Asia were $1,200, [£870] plus local charges of roughly $300 [£217], and that made it profitable.”

“This is not the case anymore, as costs have risen at phenomenal rates of up to $10,800 [£7,820] for a 20ft container,” he added.

He said there has been a 600% increase in the cost of moving a 40ft container.

Next year

Logistics UK’s Seamus Leheny told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme that it could be next year before costs begin to fall.

He said: "This is right across the board and is affecting not just imports from the Far East, which we really rely on, but also exports.”

He added: “Imports from China have seen rates increase from anything between 500 and 800%. In terms of exports, one local business told me recently that they've seen their rates to the USA increase by 600%."


There are currently orders for 3.2 million 20-feet containers – the equivalent of 20% of the global fleet – but these will not come on-stream for some time yet.

Stricter environmental controls are also thought to be behind making shipping companies reticent about ordering new ships.