According to recent data released by NRF and Hackett Associates, inbound cargo at the US’ major ports will be “consistently above 2m on twenty-foot equivalent units” (TEU) this summer.

The data also suggests these levels will remain until autumn 2024.

In March 2024 US ports covered by the Global Port Tracker handled 1.93m TEU, down 1.4% on February 2024 but up 18.7% on March 2023, when imports from Asia were delayed by Lunar New Year shutdowns.

April 2024’s port numbers have not yet been reported, but Global Port Tracker projects 1.96m TEU, up 10% compared to April 2023.

Global Port Tracker is also projecting 2.06m TEU for May 2024, up 6.8% compared to May 2023.

US imports have reached the 2m TEU mark just twice since a 19-month streak that ended in October 2022.

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Global Port Tracker expects the first half of 2024 to see total imports of 11.9m TEU – up 13% from the same period last year. Total imports for 2023 totalled 22.3m TEU, down 12.8% compared to 2022.

NRF’s vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said the organisation hadn’t seem numbers as high as 2 million TEUs – and consistently this high – for almost two years.

“Regardless of what headlines about the economy might say, consumers are shopping and retailers are making sure they have merchandise on hand to meet demand. The supply chain has adjusted to recent disruptions and retailers will work to keep the flow of goods moving smoothly as the back-to-school and holiday seasons approach,” he said.

Hackett Associates’ founder Ben Hackett added the statistics show that despite a shift towards spending on services, US consumers are still interested in products.

Hackett said: “We are still seeing a strong volume of goods flowing into ports despite global geopolitical turmoil, high interest rates and a slowdown in economic growth. There has been a surge of container imports on all three coasts, with the strongest being the Gulf, followed by the Pacific and the East Coast. The issue now is whether this surge will continue or level off.”

The May edition of the NRF’s Monthly Economic Review revealed the US economy’s gross domestic product grew only 1.6% in the first three months of this year, which is less than half the 3.4% seen in Q4 of 2023 and the lowest level since 2.1% in the second quarter of last year.

In April 2024, a coalition of apparel and retail organisations urged the US Trade Commission to eliminate import tariffs on apparel sourced from key sourcing countries and to renew and expand the scope of the Generalised System of Preferences to include certain apparel products.