Chinese New Year 2022: How Importers Can Prevent Disaster

The Chinese New Year (CNY) of 2022 starts on Tuesday, February 1st. This is earlier than 2021, when the new year didn’t start until Feb 12th. Hence, the time to get products shipped in the window between Christmas and CNY is even shorter than in 2021.

In Mainland China, the holiday officially lasts for 7 days – starting from Jan 31st until February 6th. That being, many workers don’t return for another week or two – resulting in a longer production halt.

In short, you can expect production to be closed for the first three weeks of February – with many suppliers not taking new orders starting as early as December.

How COVID-19 Impacts the Chinese New Year in 2022

The first COVID-19 outbreak largely coincided with CNY 2020. That said, the disruption turned out to be limited to an extra week or two beyond the standard CNY closure, and most factories were operational by March 2020. One year later (2021), I cannot recall any disruption beyond what we’d normally expect around the Chinese New Year.

Shipping cost increases

2022 is a bit different though. The big story of the last 12 months has been that of extreme increases in shipping costs. This has been detrimental to small to medium-sized buyers – especially those that rely on sea freight.

As is always the case, freight costs then increase the closer we get to the CNY shipping deadline, which occurs during the last few days before closure. In 2022, that means the last week of January.

Don’t place orders too close to CNY

We have also noted a minor increase in the number of suppliers closing down lately. We have no macro data and this may just be a coincidence – but it is reasonable that some suppliers have exhausted their finances and energy to continue operations after everything that’s happened since the trade war started in 2018 and later COVID disruptions.

The freight cost nightmare might be the last straw for many, and I can’t blame them. As such, importers should think twice before paying factories before CNY. I’d put orders on hold until they open in February.

Expect longer shipment delays in spring 2022

It’s plausible that the CNY disruptions will continue to some extent until April or May.  The supply chain is already slowed down by capacity shortages – and an increase in shipments before and after CNY can add to the delay.

1. Production is halted one or two weeks before the Chinese New Years Eve

While the Chinese New Year Eve is set on Tuesday, February 1st, 2022, all suppliers start to wind down operations one to two weeks in advance.

As such, the CNY puts a halt to mass production, and even sample orders, far earlier than many buyers anticipate. This is not always in your supplier’s direct control. One component and materials subcontractor closing doors a few days earlier can essentially result in an unexpected and early shutdown of the supply chain.

This partly explains why different companies close their doors on different dates. Get confirmation on their schedule well in advance to prevent delayed orders.

However, administrative functions tend to be operational a week or two longer, than the production lines. As such, you can, at least, save some of the runways on sample development and contract negotiations, that may take place at this time.

Chinese New Year

2. Production is halted for at least two weeks after the Chinese New Years Eve

While the official holiday is only lasting for roughly 5 working days, plus two weekends, most workers remain in their home provinces for an extra week or two. This explains why most suppliers are not back in business until two, sometimes even three, weeks after Chinese New Years’ Eve.

You will have a hard time getting in contact with any company representatives, including the salespeople, on CNY eve and the following days.

However, they will most likely be available to handle administrative tasks within 5 to 7 days. Don’t hesitate to contact them at this time frame.

3. Getting operations back to normal can take up to a month (or more)

Eventually, everything gets back to normal. Hopefully. The truth is that many manufacturers struggle to get back to a normal mode of operations in the weeks after the Chinese New Year.

The primary reason for this is workers who simply don’t return to their former employers, without any prior announcement.

Depending on the number of workers departing in secret, it can cause severe disruptions across the supply chain. Finding, and training, a new batch of workers provides new challenges of its own. Skilled workers are, to a certain degree, replaced by rookies.

This is one, of two reasons, why the risk of quality issues is at its peak right after the end of the Chinese New Year. Every trade takes its own time to master.

This is just one, of many reasons, why you should never relax your quality assurance and inspection procedures. The other reason for an increase in Post-CNY quality issues, as hinted above, is the large number of orders a (moderately successful) supplier, and its subcontractors have stacked up.

This may include a backlog of orders from early December and onward, depending on the production time needed. This is stretching the suppliers’ capabilities to their maximum.

Plenty of suppliers, even those who are not so busy, just use the general Post-CNY stress as an excuse for being slow and providing poor.

4. How to avoid severe delays due to the CNY

Now that you are aware of the somewhat complex dynamics of the Chinese New Year, and how it may affect your business, it’s about time to explain how you can prevent related delays and quality issues.

a. Place your orders in time: Ensure that production starts in late November, at the latest. That assumes an average production time of 30 to 40 days. If longer, you must start counting backward.

Counting on tight schedules is never wise, so make sure that you confirm when your supplier halts production and accepts new orders. Try to have a minimum 2-week buffer between the end date of the production, and the date they close.

b. Avoid placing last-minute orders in January: Remember what I mentioned about the risk of quality issues Post-CNY? The same applies to the January rush, leading up to the CNY.

Never place orders at this time, as the goods will most likely not ship on time while the risk of quality issues increases.

c. Keep things moving forward, to the extent possible: While production halts relatively early, sales, engineering, and administrative departments are more flexible.

Hence, you can move forward with due diligence, price research, sample orders, and negotiations as usual.

d. Don’t make deposit payments prior to the Chinese New Year: Some suppliers never open again. If they do intend to shut down, they’ll most likely do so at the time of the CNY.

5. CNY 2022 Timeline

Notice that this is a rough timeline. Ultimately, it depends on the suppliers’ schedule.

November 1st: Confirm when your supplier is closing and reopening for the CNY

December 23rd: Last day to place an order for delivery before the CNY (assuming a 40 day production time)

January 5th – 12th: No new orders are started (all new orders will enter production after CNY)

January 21th: Some manufacturers and material suppliers stop mass production and prepare to make their final shipments before closure

January 25th: Most workers have already left the factories. Sales reps, engineers, and management may still be around for a couple of days

January 28th: All personnel leaves the factory (including sales reps and managers). Packed and unfinished products that are yet to be shipped will be sealed in the factory until they open again. Nothing will leave the factory when they are closed.

February 1st: Chinese New Years Eve

February 14th – 18th: Most sales reps and engineers are back in the factory, or at least respond to emails and calls. Some factories resume production

February 21st – 25th: Most factories are now operational and production resumes. The suppliers normally prioritize unfinished orders and shipping cargo that was packed before closure.

6. CNY Dates

Unlike the Gregorian New Year’s Eve, which occurs on the same date every year, the Chinese New Year begins and ends and various dates in the calendar.

The earliest date is January 21 and the latest date is February 20. Below follows a list of the CNY dates for the coming years:

  • 2019: February 5
  • 2020: January 25
  • 2021: February 12
  • 2022: February 1
  • 2023: January 22
  • 2024: February 10
  • 2025: January 29
  • 2026: February 17
  • 2027: February 6

Questions & Answers

How long is the CNY 2022 factory shutdown?

The official holiday only lasts for around a week. However, the total downtime is around a month when you factor in the pre-CNY factory closures and the fact that most workers are not back until the 3rd week after CNY.

Is every single Chinese factory closed during the Chinese New Year?

Yes, all factories are without exception closed down during this period.

Asking a supplier to keep production going during the CNY is the same as asking you to work on Christmas eve. While some of us still do that, it’s not something to be expected. It’s also a public holiday, so the factory cannot force their employees to work at this time.

Do Hong Kong-based suppliers also close for CNY?

The Chinese New Year is a public holiday in Hong Kong, just like in Mainland China. However, most companies only close for a few days, rather than weeks.

That said, Hong Kong-based companies have their manufacturing facilities in Mainland China, Vietnam or other countries in the region. As such, they face the same disruption as everyone else.

Does the CNY affect ocean and air freight?

Ports remain operational during the CNY. That said, freight forwarders are closed during the CNY for at least a week. Further, they cannot pick up products that are locked up in the factory warehouse until their employees are back. Yet, the CNY is not disrupting ocean and air freight to the extent it does with manufacturing.

Why are the factories closed for so long?

Chinese migrant workers traditionally had to spend days returning from factors in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and other provinces, to their hometowns in China’s inland. While the journey time is significantly shortened by high-speed trains and low-cost airlines – the tradition for workers to take a long holiday around the CNY still remains.

It’s also their only major holiday for the entire year. By comparison, there is no summer holiday in Mainland China (or most Asian countries for that matter). Might as well stay in an air-conditioned office or factory during the Asian summer.

That being said, the general trend is that the CNY holiday is becoming shorter. Chinese manufacturers understand that this is a major disruption for both them and their customers. Many suppliers are also perfectly aware of competition from other countries in the region and how a month-long supply chain disruption is not exactly a big selling point. My best guess is that factories will limit their closure to around 2 weeks in the coming years.

Do all countries in Asia celebrate the lunar new year?

I suggest that you go at least one month in advance if you really have to go before. As many suppliers don’t accept new orders (even for samples) in the weeks before CNY, you might get more done if you visit them once they open again.

As such, the lunar new year is directly impacting businesses importing products from China and Vietnam.

That said, manufacturers in Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea, India, Europe, and the Americas also procure materials and components from suppliers in Mainland China, and to a lesser extent from Vietnam. As such, the CNY and Tet do have a major global supply chain impact – far more so than any other holiday or celebration in the world.

When is the last day to visit a supplier before the CNY?

I suggest that you go at least one month in advance if you really have to go before. As many suppliers don’t accept new orders (even for samples) in the weeks before CNY, you might get more done if you visit them once they open again.

That said, you can still negotiate contracts, and get feedback on your specifications before they close.

What will happen to my products if they are not finished before CNY?

Your supplier will either resume or start production once they are back in the factory again. How long it’ll take to finish production depends on how far they made it before they closed the factory prior to CNY.

Should I pay my suppliers before the CNY?

No, you should not pay your supplier shortly before they close before CNY. Many suppliers that are about to go out of business, tend to close down permanently at the time of the Chinese New Year.

It’s also not unusual that key employees leave the company, which can be almost as disrupting as if they cease operations.

Further, once they start production again, you should not take for granted that they will process your order faster simply because you paid the deposit before CNY.

Why is the risk of quality issues higher post-CNY?

After the CNY, a significant percentage of the workers don’t return to their factory. Instead, they look for employment in their hometowns and provinces.

As such, the factories need to bring in a new batch of untrained workers each year to manage the post-CNY surge in production. A large production volume combined with poorly trained staff is a potent mix that often results in severe quality issues and misunderstandings.

Whatever you do, don’t cut down on quality inspections in March, April, and May. Then again, you should not be cutting down on quality inspection at any time of the year.

What are some other holidays we should be aware of?

Other than the Chinese New Year, the only big holiday in Mainland China is the Golden Week from October 1st to 7th.

Wrapping up

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