For the first half of 2018, imports are expected to total 10.2m TEU, an increase of 8.3% over the first half of 2017

For the first half of 2018, imports are expected to total 10.2m TEU, an increase of 8.3% over the first half of 2017

Imports at major US retail container ports are expected to set record numbers this summer and autumn even as the debate over trade and tariffs continues in Washington, new figures show.

According to the latest Global Port Tracker report released by the NRF and Hackett Associates, total imports at major US retail container ports in 2017 were 20.5m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), up 7.6% from 2016's previous record of 19.1m TEU.

2017 saw an all-time monthly high of 1.8m TEU in August and included five of only seven months when imports have hit 1.7m TEU or more.

For the first half of 2018, imports are expected to total 10.2m TEU, an increase of 3.8% over the first half of 2017.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.63m TEU in April, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 5.8% from March and up 0.3% year-over-year. A TEU is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent.

May was estimated at 1.77m TEU, up 1.3%, while June is forecast at 1.78m TEU, up 3.7% from last year.

Looking further ahead, July is forecast at 1.88m TEU, up 4.1%; August at 1.91m TEU, up 4%; September at 1.83m TEU, up 2.3%; and October at 1.9m, up 5.7%.

The numbers forecast for July, August and October would each beat the previous record of 1.83m TEU imported during a single month, which was set in August 2017.

"Consumers are buying more and that means retailers are importing more," NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, Jonathan Gold, said.  "Imports continue to be the primary source of high-quality, mass-produced necessities at affordable prices and will be for the foreseeable future. If tariffs are imposed on consumer goods, that will only drive up prices for American families while doing little or nothing to punish those responsible for unfair trade practices."

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett added that despite an environment where the US administration is enacting measures that could well lead to a trade war with most of its Asian and European trading partners, imports continue to grow, noting that manufacturers have seen increased orders that reflect solid consumer demand.

"This suggests that neither industry nor consumers really believe that President Trump will push through with his proposed tariffs. Let's hope that they are right," he said.

Click here to see how apparel imports into the US fared during the month of April.