Inbound cargo volume at major container ports across the U.S. is expected to reach two million units in May. This is the first time since the fall of 2023 that imports have grown. The new report, Global Port Tracker, was released by the National Retail Federation and international trade consulting firm Hackett Associates. The report finds that despite improvements in the supply chain, growth was still staggered at container ports through 2023.

“U.S. imports are continuing to increase despite another disruption impacting U.S. ports,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “As retailers have adjusted to limits on the use of the Panama Canal and the Red Sea, we now face the shutdown of the Port of Baltimore to vessel traffic. 

“While it is not expected to have a national impact, the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge shows the ongoing need for flexibility and resiliency in every company’s supply chain. We are monitoring the situation closely as retailers who are affected adjust their shipping plans to ensure cargo is getting to where it needs to be.”

Gold noted that the recent closing of vessel traffic within the Port of Baltimore has blocked the only shipping channel into the harbor. Though not included in the most recent figures, the shutdown is having a regional impact and cargo that would normally go there is being diverted to other East Coast ports, he said. 

In January, the port handled 48,000 twenty-foot equivalent units. With the timing of reopening of the harbor still undetermined, future cargo containers will have to find other locations to use. 

“The Baltimore bridge accident will likely shift container imports and exports to New York/New Jersey, Virginia and other surrounding ports until a shipping channel is cleared, perhaps as soon as within a couple of months,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates. 

Other pressures on exports and imports into the U.S. in recent months, including carriers being rerouted around the Red Sea and Suez Canal after attacks on vessels, have also impacted the volume of cargo ships entering the country. This has forced many shipping companies to add additional vessels and increase vessel speed to make up for lost time. 

“Doing so has resulted in relatively stable supply chains within a short period of time,” Hackett said. “A word of caution, however, is that any further pressures on capacity could seriously impact the market.”