U.S. importers, straining under a tapped-out supply chain, are increasingly offering top dollar for long-term shipping contracts that may not even be honored as they try whatever it takes to guarantee the arrival of their products.

The pandemic-driven boom in demand for goods pushed both contract and spot rates for shipping to records — getting merchandise from place to place costs about 11 times more than it did before the Covid-19 outbreak. With demand so high and capacity limited, importers are paying up to avoid a repeat of 2021, when some contracts set at lower prices weren’t honored, leaving customers without their stuff.

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