Volume remains high at US retail container ports as retailers work to meet still-strong consumer demand and also protect themselves against potential disruptions at West Coast port as the contract deadline approaches.

“We’re in for a busy summer at the ports,” NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy, Jonathan Gold says. “Back-to-school supplies are already arriving, and holiday merchandise will be right behind them. And the big wild card is what will happen with West Coast labour negotiations with the current contract set to expire on 1 July. We continue to encourage the parties to remain at the table until a deal is done, but some of the surge we’ve seen may be a safeguard against any problems that might arise.”

US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 2.26m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in April, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was down 3.6% from March’s 2.34m TEU – the record for the number of containers imported in a single month since NRF began tracking imports in 2002 – but up 5.1% year over year.

Ports have not yet reported May numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 2.31m TEU, down 0.9% from 2.33m TEU in May 2021, the second-busiest month on record. June is also forecast at 2.31m TEU, up 7.5% year over year, which would leave May and June tied for the third-highest volume.

July, meanwhile, is forecast at 2.3m TEU, up 4.8% from last year; August at 2.28m TEU, up 0.2%; September at 2.13m TEU, down 0.4%, and looking further ahead, October is also at 2.13m TEU, down 3.8%. 

The first six months of 2022 are expected to total 13.5m TEU, up 5.3% year over year. Imports for all of 2021 totalled 25.8m TEU, a 17.4% increase over 2020’s previous annual record of 22m TEU.

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett notes imports from China should start to grow again now that the government has relaxed its Covid Zero policy and started to release the population of Shanghai from a months’-long lockdown.

“The anticipation is that the Chinese manufacturing and transportation sectors will quickly get back to normal,” he explains. Nonetheless, “China’s recovery will need the government’s support in order to get the supply chain functioning normally again to provide the input required by the manufacturing sector.”

How to build a stronger and more sustainable supply chain will be addressed as retailers, industry experts, and technology innovators meet at the NRF Supply Chain 360 conference in Cleveland 20-21 June.