As retailers fret over port strike, imports surge

Cranes for unloading shipping containers stand at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Cranes for unloading shipping containers stand at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California.

Facing uncertainty over an unsettled labor dispute between West Coast dockworkers and the operators of port terminals and shipping lines, imports are expected to reach their highest monthly volume in at least five years in July, according to the Global Port Tracker report.

The report, released Wednesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates, found that import volume is projected to spike 4.3 percent in July compared to the prior year.

It's the latest month in a recent string of higher import volumes that began in the spring, which the NRF said is a result of retailers bringing in shipments early to ensure their shelves are stocked for the key back-to-school and holiday selling periods.

Read MoreTruckers strike at Los Angeles, Long Beach ports

Volume for the first half of the year is expected to rise 6.7 percent compared to 2013, according to the report.

"We're still hoping to get through this without any significant disruptions but retailers aren't taking any chances," said Jonathan Gold, NRF's vice president for supply chain and customs policy.

Read MoreWest Coast dockworker talks a tense time

Negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents workers who operate port terminals and shipping lines, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers, expired on July 1. Both sides are still at work as a new contract is being negotiated, though earlier this week they agreed to 72-hour break in talks that ends Friday.

But Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, said the spike in imports isn't solely tied to unrest on the West Coast—it also signals an improving economy.

Global Port Tracker expects volumes to continue to increase through November, though the year-over-year increases are expected to be smaller.

—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson