The backlog at the UK’s largest container port “is improving”, so Britons should shop normally for Christmas, a cabinet minister said, after reports of large ships carrying heavy cargo. ‘Asia.

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party’s co-chair, told Sky News that authorities in Felixstowe have said the situation is improving at the Port of Suffolk, which handles around 40% of containers entering and leaving the UK.

Dowden’s comments came after the world’s largest container shipping company, Danish company AP Møller-Maersk, called the port one of its biggest global challenges due to a backlog of containers caused by a shortage of truck drivers.

The problems at Felixstowe, which also became stranded at the end of 2020, came at the start of the busiest time of the year for shipping companies and ports, with retailers importing larger quantities of goods from ‘East Asia for sale during the Christmas shopping season.

“There is clearly a difficult problem, especially with heavy truck drivers and not just here,” said Dowden. “It is through Europe, Poland, the United States, even China, that there is this challenge. That is why we have taken measures to remedy this, whether for example with training, 5,000 additional places for the training of heavy truck drivers, which makes the process more flexible.

Maersk said congestion at Felixstowe has increased over the past two weeks, meaning the company has had to moor up to one in three of its large ships at mainland ports, including Rotterdam.

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The goods were then unloaded and brought to Britain on smaller ships, which did not have to wait as long for a berth at Felixstowe as the larger ships.

In addition, the average time a sea container spends in port – known as “dwell time” – has doubled from four and a half days in 2020 to nine days.

Felixstowe reported that congestion had eased in recent days and there was more space for import containers than at any time since early July.

However, industry experts don’t expect the port backlog to end before the start of 2022, given the rush by retailers to import goods ahead of the holiday season and New Year’s holiday. Chinese lunar – which takes place in early February – when factories across the country close for at least a week, if not longer.

Logistics industry analysts warn that congestion at ports leads to delays and possibly higher costs for consumers and businesses, which is particularly problematic in Britain, where around 90% of imports arrive by sea .

According to Nick Bailey, head of research at Transport Intelligence, the problems at Felixstowe will only be a short-term incident if the port can clear the backlog as it says.

“The longer term challenge will come if ocean freight carriers decide to skip UK ports more often. It would change the way many UK imports operate, ”Bailey said, although he added that he considered it likely would not be at this time.

A spokesperson for Associated British Ports, which manages and operates 21 ports in Britain, said: “ABP is aware of the challenges some UK ports are facing. However, ABP’s significant investment in infrastructure, people, equipment and technology means that we are well positioned to handle today’s challenges.

“Our teams at all sites are working hard with our customers and other supply chain partners, and we can confirm that ABP’s 21 ports are operating without any delays or disruptions in service. “

Official figures showed truck driver shortages and wider supply chain disruptions in the UK were not only impacting nationally, but also weighed heavily on international trade in August.

The Office for National Statistics said merchandise exports fell by £ 1.3 billion, or 4.6%, from the previous month, due to a sharp drop in shipments of cars and groups generators to the EU and the rest of the world.

Auto production has come under pressure from global shortages of microchips, slowing export volumes. However, the ONS said staff shortages due to self-isolation and a severe shortage of heavy truck drivers had also depressed exports.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chamber of Commerce, said businesses were increasingly worried about further trade disruptions caused by Brexit.

“Concerns are growing about tariffs or the loss of trade facilitation measures in the event of a major deterioration in EU-UK relations over the next year. This would bring down a still fragile set of import and export data on EU-UK trade, ”he said.