Chinese New Year (CNY) is just around the corner—which means the mundane rhythm of everyday life will soon give way to a vibrant celebration of family and cultural traditions. Beginning Saturday, February 10, 2024, not a single soul will be found in factories or offices, as the Chinese workforce enjoys a week (or more) of respite—oftentimes away from the large, bustling cities. Instead, the streets of China will be transformed and adorned with red lanterns, children’s paper decorations in every window, and parades in honor of “The Year of the Dragon.”

With the number of “Made in China” tags embroidered and/or stamped on so many global products, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that China accounts for approximately 11-14% of all U.S. imports (depending on your data source). Why are we telling you this, you might ask? Because the annual CNY shutdown leads to a temporary, yet notable slowdown in manufacturing, and more importantly—affects exporting activities.

Typically, CNY falls anywhere between January 21 and February 21, though the specific timeframe varies from year to year depending on the lunar calendar. However, regardless of the specific dates, there is always a noticeable surge in manufacturing and shipping activity out of China leading up to the holiday, as exporters scramble to find available bookings and shipping capacity before the hiatus begins.

Although one can never take trends as gospel in the shipping world, there is value in observing past data. Let’s take a quick peek at some of the peaks (rather troughs) of post-CNY rate changes over the past decade—minus the messy period we call COVID-19.

Chart of CY rates from Asia to U.S. West Coast by year comparing peak Chinese New Year to April

Long story short: If you can avoid the pre-CNY shipping parade, you’ll likely be able to score some unused container space at a nice post-holiday “discount.” So, be sure to mark your calendars well in advance and prepare to ship smarter—not harder. Because in our business, it can really pay-off to know not just how to make your move, but when.