Shoppers in the UK and in Sweden are paying up to 44 per cent more than consumers in other western countries for dozens of branded goods, according to a government report published yesterday.

The report, commissioned by the UK's Department of Trade and Industry and the Swedish government, looked at the prices of 133 branded items, including clothing and footwear products, in the UK, Sweden, France, Germany and the US.

Overall, the picture was mixed: British customers got good deals on electrical and sporting equipment. But within Europe, the UK and Sweden were more expensive for most brands surveyed, compared with Germany and France.

Prices in the US were significantly cheaper than in Europe for many global brands. A pair of Dockers K1 khakis was £58 ($83.50) in the UK but only £46 ($66) in Germany and £32 ($46) in the US. Levi jeans cost more than £50 ($72) in the UK, compared with less than £40 ($57) in the US.

The UK trade and industry secretary, Stephen Byers, said companies were abusing European trademark legislation to keep prices artificially high in some countries, and consumers were increasingly saying that was unacceptable.

The trademark directive allows owners to prevent the import of their goods from outside the EU for resale inside it. But once the goods have been sold within Europe, they can be freely bought and sold on, giving rise to the `grey market'.

"Action is needed to reform the EU law on the protection of branded goods," said Mr Byers. "I want the Tescos and Asdas of this world to be able to source the best deals from anywhere in the world and pass those savings on to consumers."

The principal policy adviser for Consumers' Association, Phil Evans, said: "The Swedish/ UK price comparison work clearly shows that consumers in Europe suffer at the hands of international brands who price at whatever level that they can get away with."

The findings will be discussed at a meeting of European consumer affairs ministers in Sweden today, with Britain represented by Kim Howells.

Mr Byers said: "We are working with the Swedes to push for removal of trade mark restrictions on the import of branded goods. We hope other member states will support our joint approach Effectively, the directive forces retailers to import goods from the most expensive suppliers."

Tesco and Asda said such a change would be immediately reflected in lower prices. Tesco has been involved in a legal battle with Levi over selling its items well below the recommended retail price.

Tesco's marketing director, Tim Mason, said: "Where Tesco has already sourced goods on the grey market, it has been able to sell them at discounts of between 25 per cent and 50 per cent."