Import cargo volume at the U.S.’s major container ports is climbing back from a nearly three-year low in February but is expected to remain well below last year’s levels heading into this fall, according to the Global Port Tracker report released recently by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

“Consumers are still spending and retail sales are expected to increase this year, but we’re not seeing the explosive demand we saw the past two years,” NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement announcing the report. “Congestion at the ports has largely gone away as import levels have fallen, but other supply chain challenges remain, ranging from trucker shortages to getting empty containers back to terminals. We were pleased by recent reports of progress related to the West Coast port labor negotiations but will continue to monitor the situation closely until there is a new agreement ratified by both parties. ”

U.S. ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.62 million twenty-foot equivalent units — one 20-foot container or its equivalent (TEUs) — in March, the latest month for which final numbers are available. That was up 5% from February — which saw the lowest levels since May 2020 — but down 30.6% year over year.

Ports have not yet reported April numbers, but Global Port Tracker projected the month at 1.73 million TEUs, down 23.4% year over year. May is forecast at 1.83 million TEUs, down 23.5% from last year’s 2.4 million TEUs, the all-time record for the number of containers imported during a single month. June is forecast at 1.9 million TEUs, down 15.9%; July at 2.01 million TEUs, down 7.9%; August at 2.04 million TEUs, down 9.9%, and September at 1.96 million TEUs, down 3.4%. The large year-over-year declines are skewed by unusually high volumes last year.

The first half of 2023 — previously forecast at 10.8 million TEUs — is now forecast at 10.4 million TEUs, down 22.8% from the first half of 2022. Global Port Tracker has not yet forecast the full year, but the third quarter is expected to total 6 million TEUs, down 7.2% from the same time last year, and the first nine months of the year would total 16.5 million TEUs, down 17.8% year over year. Imports for all of 2022 totaled 25.5 million TEUs, down 1.2% from the annual record of 25.8 million TEUs set in 2021.

Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by Hackett Associates, provides historical data and forecasts for the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach; Oakland, Calif.; Seattle; Tacoma, Wash., on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey; Norfolk, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Port Everglades, Fla., Miami; and Jacksonville, Fla., on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast. 

The report is free to NRF retail members, and subscription information is available online or by calling 202-783-7971.