On December 5, 2019, we held a panel discussion that focused on different perspectives related to global trade. As the global environment is shifting based on political debates, EU/British negotiations, tariffs driven by the Trump administration, as well as the sudden shifts in country-level policies, supply chain executives and planners are working to plan for future uncertainties. Our panel represented a diversity of views on these issues that shed a lot of light into these problems.
Chris Hagestad from Advance Auto Parts noted that many of their parts come from overseas locations including China. To deal with uncertainty, the team has mapped out their supply base to mitigate risk. The goal is to create redundant sources based on supplier-specific and country-of-origin, to ensure that each product category has redundancy as a form of insurance on the supply chain. However, some categories are capacity constrained. As an example, there are tariffs on the automotive rotors that go into a brake system, and over the last ten years, the vast majority of these are produced in northern China. Even if AAP or other auto part companies wanted to move production, there is no manufacturing capacity in the US or anywhere else, so creating redundancy in this case is very difficult.
Andrew Partis shared his views from ThermoFisher, a global contrat manufacturer for the pharmaceutical industry. Thermo is very much affected by Brexit, and has worked on creating strategies to deal with this. His primary role has been to make the supply chain fit for purpose, and he has been working on what TF can do about Brexit. It is not so much the application of a tariff, or even leaving NAFTA, but more like “North Carolina leaving the United States!” We have to consider how we will be buying or selling products globally, and despite the amount of work ahead, we believe there are opportunities on how we can make sense of this situation with our clients.
Lisa McCauley is the CEO of the Global Trade Professionals Alliance, which is headquartered n Australia but has offices in the UK, the US, and the Asia Pacific region. GTPA is focused on developing international trade standards for business, government, and international supply chain trade networks, building competencies to conduct international trade, and facilitation of global business networks through ISO standards. She notes that “my job was easier 3 years ago, and we not sit in a policy-driven world in the multinational area.” GTPA works with world customs organizations, the UN, and an international network in various countries.
Paul Branch is the Chief Operating Officer in the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management. He spent 34 years of his career in the IT services industry, where technology has revolutionized the commercial framework. Today he is focused on improving contracting practices and relationships, and developing agile contracting approaches to help pay back into the industry his experiences in this area. IACCM’s vision is to move towards a world where all commercial relationships deliver social and economic value. Paul is focused on improving the quality and integrity of commercial relationships, driving international practices and successful commercial relationships, and developing tools, techniques, and practices to enable economic growth and success.
Bill Heckencamp is a Materials Manager at Cheniere Energy, and runs much of the international trade relationships for the company’s major projects. Cheniere imports huge amounts of steel for their LNG processing facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, and are the second largest exporter of LNG in the world. Tariffs have had a major impact on the company’s capital costs, as the ‘trains’ are primarily constructed of erected steel. Cheniere is the “smallest” of the Fortune 500 companies. In February 2016, Cheniere became the first company to ship LNG from a commercial facility in the contiguous United States. Since startup, more than 850 cumulative cargoes of LNG originating from Cheniere have been delivered to 32 countries and regions worldwide. In support of that global reach, Cheniere has additional offices in London, Singapore, Washington, Beijing, and Tokyo.
Bill H: “We have two trade zones in Oklahoma and Houston, and are under construction to produce one in Corpus Christi. This requires a great deal of planning, to understand first what will we construct, where do we import it from, and how do we get it here? One of our plays is to defer duties and fees using the free trade zones. We source 250 miles of tubular steel out of Canada, but were hit with a 232 tariff, and every piece of pipe suddenly was assigned a 25% penalty. Given that we had a tight economic structure, and not a lot of people to work on this issue, we had to come up with a solution and be nimble about it. We decided to work with outside resources (Ernst & Young), and told them that we need two foreign trade zones in the next 60 days! They said “Let’s do it!”, and we set up a meeting with Customs and Border Protection arguing that this was needed to create industrial. We told them we have miles of pipe sitting in a free trade zone, and we were able to divert the 25% tariff. Next, the company was hit with countervailing duties, imposing 55% on our imports. We were also able to defer this by working with the Department of Commerce, telling them that we had bought it before the duties were imposed, and they gave us relief. Currently, we are working on a global import strategy, knowing that we are going to do more business with foreign supplier. At any moment, the government can tweet something, and the market will react. We have to be able to execute on our capital plans to build out infrastructure in the face of these disruptions.
Paul B: Put simply, tariffs disrupt supply chains! But we also have to ask the question, is that uncertainty truly a threat? I don’t think so. The opportunity that these challenges present is a drive for innovation, towards agile opportunity, and there are commercial contracting frameworks that allow corporations to retain the advantage of uncertainty for their business. Some of our research involved looking uncertainty in the contract deliverables, and understanding what is being contracted for and how it will be delivered in the market. We found that the standard “no frills contract” commercial model is useless when you have uncertainty in the deliverable, and that is where the innovation can take place. When we have certainty around delivery AND the deliverable, an agile contracting framework also works well. The issue becomes how do you manage the contract to response to changes that are unpredictable to enable effective change management within the contracting framework. So when you have the next factory fire or disaster, we need to be able to contract for the unknown, and to grow and respond in an environment where deliverables are likely to be more and more uncertain.
Lisa M. It is becoming more apparent that a large number of businesses and a host of political and economic policy and institutional barriers are colliding at once, and that is imposing further challenges on security, trade and investment, and policies. We are witnessing the “weaponization of trade” in global politics, to the point where it impacts security, and is weaponized into trade policy. I do think this is a period for new opportunities that will come out of what is happening. We are seeing some countries opening up to new free trade agreements being negotiated, the impact of technology, and how it can empower foreign trade and trade compliance. Block chain is not the end all solution, but and we will be lucky if we get to the point where we can avoid having 600 pages of documentation going into every container! We definitely need to streamline trade processes. What we haven ‘t talk about are non-tariff barriers which are often the biggest barriers, are now on the back burner. We are seeing a huge increase in non-tariff barriers with up to over 50,000 barriers around the world that impact global trade and affect over 90% of trade flows. These are the hardest to affect at a trade policy level.
A good example of this is the situation with Huawei. In Australia, politically we had to come out with a policy that demonstrates that we are allies of the US. But overnight, we suddenly had to stop all of the Huawei shipments coming into Australia, and if we don’t, then the US won’t be happy, and the cost of doing business is a huge expense, so ambassadors will then trade that expense to make political points. There is a lot happening with the WTO and trade agreements and what people like to call trade liberalization. But what we haven’t talked about is trade facilitation agreement and the huge impacts of what will happen to address trade regulation and compliance, including customs processes and procedures. We need to have authorization schemes to improve trade compliance and customs costs at the border, to streamline procedures and avoid the delays that have become common.
Andrew P. My immediate problem is that three and a half years after the UK decided they wanted to leave the EU, it hasn’t actually happened! There is a deadlock in the UK and in the EU, and an election next Thursday. Personally, I think it will be a long haul, and even if the UK is able to pass the baton and get Brexit done, I’m still not convinced it is going to happen. In light of all this, we have taken the view to assume that the most difficult thing we need to do is to ensure the UK will be effectively on WTO terms. We are avoiding using the phrase “Worst Case Scenario”, but are trying to find a way that allows us to be flexible regardless of what happens. We have also spent a lot of time looking at this problem, and recognize there is not a “right way” to get to the Brexit problem. Instead, we have gone through the process of what has to be done, to understand more about the commodities we work with, and to make sure we understand what will happen in the event of Brexit. It is a two-legged thing, as we also have to consider the case of if the UK goes back to the EU. In either case, we taken that stance and worked on quite a lot of the risk mitigation scenarios. We have considered how long it will last, where should we put our materials, how would we move it, where the political outcomes will leave us. We can’t rely on the government to “look after our interests”, but have to take a position that is neutral to whatever outcome occurs.
Chris H. Inflation and the subsequent impact on the business is our biggest challenge, and we know we will have to increase prices as will the industry. What happens when you create inflation is a potential decrease in selling units and a de-leverage in production and supply chain. So when the supply chain is impacted by tariffs, you end up buying fewer units than years previous and potentially that you agreed to in a contract. Our negotiation strategy is to reduce the impact on the end customer by carefully understanding the components of cost, timing of inventory already produced and potentially a shared role in the cost. There is of course the decision of whether you going to switch manufacturing to another country if that capacity is open or if the duration of the tariff is expected to be long. In making contry of orgin comparisons, there are often a lot of ignored factors in other countries that come into play. For instance, if you look at Mexico, there is union activity in specific portions of the manufacturing locations. A lot of automotive business is going there because of the lack of trade barriers, but it isn’t always easy as it looks. India – it is a great country to manufacture in but the infrastructure is not quite as developed as China. We also look at Turkey, and the problem there is that the currency fluctuations. So you end up having to weigh the 25% tariff with China against the uncertainties of other countries. And the production efficiency in China is in some cases superior than other countries. So then we have to start thinking about the duration of the tariff and weigh the broader country of origin options.
Chris H. All countries have some level of risk, and we have never felt that there is a “slam dunk” country where you can always go. Usually there is a reason why there is open capacity in a country. There are a lot of supply-demand economics that come into play for a low-cost country, and it is important to understand the reasons for those economics. We know that many large companies in China have some government backing. We always seek to understand where they are investing so we can stay ahead of where production and capacity may be growing. We will also benefit in country of origin diversification along with a manufacturer who is our current partner.
Andrew P. We as an industry are anticipating massive short-term changes in both the EU and the UK. Healthcare is a very inertia driven industry, and takes a long time to change, and in an industry where we see a lot of shifts in manufacturing, my view is that we are not likely to see an enormous amount of change despite all the press.
Lisa M. – There are more and more regional free trade agreements, and we were very sad when the US pulled out of the TPP. Since then, Japan has pushed forward with the CTPT (no one calls it that, we still call it TPP). It is a shame, as the TPP was a groundbreaking regional trade agreement that would have addressed the bigger issues on tariff barriers, and would have gotten rid of the Country of Origin nonsense for good. Despite this, we would like to be able to get a regional trading block going up in the UK perhaps! The demise of the TPP puts China in a dominant position in the region and India is moving away from it as well. There is a huge push around what we would call the Pacific region bloc, involving commitments around trade, and these are huge areas of opportunity for us . Africa is an emerging powerhouse, and the African continental trade agreement is growing and there is a huge investment from China in Africa. Overall, we anticipate that in the next 10-20 years China will be a huge powerhouse, and what they are doing to rock the logistics supply chain from China into Europe will lock in many trade routes. This is a factor not to be ignored. In digital services, commitments in WTO will look to create bilateral agreement around digital services, which will be important in local taxation policies. There will also likel emerge and reactionary policies from different governments, and digital services between the US and China will likely be a stalemate.
Paul B. Technology and commercial frameworks that are much more agile will be important in changing the commercial landscape. Adaptive contracting models will become important in light of shifting trade policies.
Bill H. We bring a lot of equipment into the US, and we need to start digitizing our commercial invoices and trade documentation. We know we have to be able to react more quickly and bring velocity to our industry. We know we need to start to break down the prices given by OEM’s, start to do more market research to understand where we are buying our material from, and asking the question of where else can we find this material? Can we push it through another channel? Can we start automating this research, using the harmonized trade schedule, automating calculation of the different tariff rates, and make decisions on the fly based on updated analytics, to find the best deal. We need to begin to understand how to regulations are impacting our normal pathways in our supply chain, and to deconstruct that materials and automate the decision to leverage our market intelligence to make more informed decisions.
Chris H. We try to do as much work as we can to predict trade risks, but the best indicator of what is happening happens in the market is to keep track of investments made by businesses and entrepreneurs in these regions. That is the best gauge of where we should be manufacturing. We may try to hedge, but should be watching where these entrepreneurs are putting their money, which countries they are backing. From my standpoint, that is the best indicator of where our production should go, as their understanding is much more acute than anything we can put together, because they are the ones making that capital investment in country.
Andrew – The issue of trade blocs is an interesting question. Brexit is the baby that started to break up the trade blocks, and there are people who are suggesting that is the end of Britiain. Certainly we will be weakened by Brexit, but will the trade blocs become the basis for a new trading structure? I can’t draw a conclusion on that and yet we have to make long-term decisions that takes that into account. In Western Europe, it is about being able to cope with any number of different things that may happen.
Lisa M. These are political trade blocs and I believe they will have a short-term impact. But in the long run, technology and innovation will play a role, as well as taking into account the impact on the environment, 3D printing, digital consumption, and many other factors. These will move us away from trade blocs, and driven by those evolution of SCM, they won’t be as important. The economic factors and trade blocs we are seeing are, I believe, a short-term issue for now, that is happening as a result of actions on the part of certain countries.
Paul B. The segmentation is happening in terms of products and services and will ripple down the supply chain opportunistically. But I believe that the decision of where production will occur will be influenced by the physics and philosophy behind supply chains. Technology will be the defining issue, and social behaviors will also come into play and shape what we know.
Bill H. The economics of each industry situation will occur, and technology will change everything as well as social media. IACCM research suggests that 60% of transactions and uncertainty will be managed by machines. You don’t want to be the last one stuck in that space.
We appreciate the insights of these experts, and will await what happens in 2020 and the impact of politics on global relations. However, as these individuals state, organizations need to act ahead of political issues that are trying to weaponize trade…