Tag Archives: free trade

Made in the USA vs. Free Trade – it’s complicated

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While watching the news this week, my wife Linda asked me “Are you a true believer in free trade?” As I thought of a response, I was reminded of why manufacturers began to leave the USA. Yes, many were chasing low labor, but the reality is that many companies were chasing quarterly earnings while operating out of post-World War II factories with limited investment. Abroad, the companies were investing in new plants with updated capital, automation and driving low manufacturing cost as well as having low labor costs compared to the US.

In my corporate procurement and supply chain career, I’ve worked for organizations that had short term focus, lack of (or misdirected) investment and poor strategy. Unfortunately, some no longer exist. The point is that tariffs and duties on imported goods alone will not save US manufacturing. Being the low-cost producer involves investing in the future and developing sound business strategies; that is the key to surviving and thriving.

Free Trade will drive buyers to the low cost, efficient suppliers wherever they are. The high cost, inefficient suppliers can be propped up by protection, but are not likely to survive in the long term. Some supply chains, like the electronic industry, have made the long-term investments elsewhere and have already achieved technology advances, low cost and may never return to the US. The automated factories that return will require different employee skillsets than the industries that left the US and we may not have a ready labor force if manufacturing is reshored.

As procurement and supply chain professionals, we need to develop all suppliers to be efficient, operate at the lowest cost and invest in innovation and automation. I believe that sound strategies, investment and a commitment to the future will lead to the most competitive suppliers, wherever they are located.

It’s a complicated question:

Do you believe in Free Trade?

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The New Anti-Trade Movement and Your Supply Chain – risk or opportunity?

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Since ancient times, trade deals have been struck with foreign countries. You could say that trade and tax were the spark that has ignited revolutions and wars.

The promise for the US to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, coupled with the UK vote to leave the EU and change trade agreements across Europe, is raising concerns and signaling an anti-free trade sentiment. Free trade advocates are disappointed for sure and the future is uncertain.

The political climate has changed, bringing more focus on a reshoring movement in the US. Many of us in procurement were driven to support low cost country sourcing. Whether moving sources back to the US or with the potential of tariffs, duties and increased fees, our strategy and profit plans could be at risk.

While we don’t know what will evolve in terms of the future of trade, there are opportunities and risks. The opportunities will be presented if the US renegotiates trade deals to take advantage of the ability to drive US exports. The risks come if trade deals do not happen and increase costs to protect US manufacturing hurt the bottom line. I’m advising my clients to:

  1. Review all internationally sourced components
  2. Understand the strategic nature of all of the internationally sourced categories
  3. Identify opportunities for alternate sourcing
  4. Understand items with high capital investment and technology as a driver (and the implications of not being able to switch suppliers)
  5. Create a currency strategy
  6. Drive best value sourcing

It’s always better to be prepared than surprised.

What’s your plan?