When the crisis is over, the real work for supply chain managers will begin

Geopolitical analyst Jacob Shapiro argues that the over-reliance on China as a primary supplier will drive change across global supply chains

Subscriber: Log Out

According to Jacob Shapiro, a geopolitical analyst, 90 percent of the businesses with a direct impact to their supply chains as a result of COVID-19 are based in the U.S. At the same time, China enjoys a dominant position, and in some sectors a monopoly, on supply in those global supply chains.

“While the first rule of supply chain resilience is to avoid single sourcing,” says Shapiro, who advises business clients on geopolitical and political risk, “U.S. and European companies have long been attracted by the cheap skilled labor China has to offer.” He adds that “regardless of the ultimate impact or duration of the pandemic, the rapid suppression of global economic activity has shown that overreliance on China as a primary supplier has become an intolerable single point of failure.”

I spoke to Shapiro back on March 31, which seems like a lifetime ago in the course of the pandemic. On that day, there were 185,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 3,800 confirmed deaths from the virus. As I write this column two weeks later, there are about 588,300 confirmed cases and 24,480 confirmed deaths. On the 31st, those numbers were staggering; today, April 14th, they are unfathomable.

While this is what we refer to as a Black Swan event, Shapiro was not so much focused on the here and now during our conversation, but on what comes next, which he predicts will be a decoupling of supply chains, and not just a decoupling from China. Moreover, from the perspective of supply chains, he sees COVID-19 as a catalyst, one of those agents you add to a mix to speed up a chemical reaction that was going to take place anyway. “In 2008, a financial bubble popped,” he said. “I think the bubble to pop now is China.”

According to Shapiro, the relationship between the U.S. and China began to change in 2012, when Xi Jingpin became president of the People's Republic of China. In the ensuing years, the Obama administration imposed tariffs on some Chinese-made products, such as tires, but “in 2014 and 2015, it was a chicken war with the Chinese,” Shapiro said during our call. Meanwhile, companies began to at least explore other options, even if they didn't fully embrace them, because of rising wages and China's shrinking cost advantage. “We continued to use them because China remained super-efficient,” Shapiro noted. “Things began to change in 2016, when the United States declared China a strategic rival. Once China saw that on paper, they reacted.” And, of course, a tariff war followed.

So, what comes next? Shapiro acknowledges that some, including some friends in the business community, maintain that “China is the next China.” He thinks that's the wrong question to ask. “To me, that question is thinking about a world that doesn't exist anymore. It's a completely new ball game. Changes were already underway, and COVID-19 could be the final nail in the coffin.”

Instead, think of supply chains that will be a lot more localized and regionalized. “What supply chain managers need to think about is not comparative advantage but political risk,” he contended. “It's not cheap, but efficient and reliable. They should ask how they diversify so they don't have all of their eggs in one basket. They should also think about how to secure their supply chains from political risk.”

While there has been a lot of talk about bringing production back to America, Shapiro thinks that may be true for critical products, like satellites and vaccines, but probably not for the everyday things we're used to buying on the cheap. “It's not going to be about re-shoring to the U.S.,” Shapiro said. “It's going to be strategically defensible, or reliable, networks.” If you're operating in the U.S., you may be looking to Mexico and South America. If you're operating in China, you may be looking in Central Asia. There are budding alliances forming between Japan, Australia and India that may be able reduce the economic dependence on China.

Shapiro's final advice to supply chain managers: Despite the current challenge of getting supply chains back up and running, focus on the long term. “Don't just map out your supply chain geographically but politically,” he said. “Ask how could a political squabble, like a trade war or a pandemic, mess up a company's supply?”

SC
MR

Latest Resources
How to Optimize Your RFID Mandate Labeling within the Supply Chain
Unlock supply chain success by joining SATO America, Loftware, and GS1 Global experts to master new RFID mandates, retail labeling, and…
Read more

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock, MMH Executive Editor and SCMR contributor
Bob Trebilcock's Bio Photo

Bob Trebilcock is the editorial director for Modern Materials Handling and an editorial advisor to Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered materials handling, technology, logistics, and supply chain topics for nearly 40 years. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at 603-852-8976.

View Bob's author profile.

Subscribe

Supply Chain Management Review delivers the best industry content.
Subscribe today and get full access to all of Supply Chain Management Review’s exclusive content, email newsletters, premium resources and in-depth, comprehensive feature articles written by the industry's top experts on the subjects that matter most to supply chain professionals.
×

Search

Search

Sourcing & Procurement

Inventory Management Risk Management Global Trade Ports & Shipping

Business Management

Supply Chain TMS WMS 3PL Government & Regulation Sustainability Finance

Software & Technology

Artificial Intelligence Automation Cloud IoT Robotics Software

The Academy

Executive Education Associations Institutions Universities & Colleges

Resources

Podcasts Webcasts Companies Visionaries White Papers Special Reports Premiums Magazine Archive

Subscribe

SCMR Magazine Newsletters Magazine Archives Customer Service