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Global Supply Chain Needs an Overhaul in the Post-COVID 19 World

Manufacturers must redesign and reform their Global Supply Chain or Global Production Networks (GPN) if they want to survive and prosper in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study reveals.

The virus’ impact demonstrates that global manufacturing concerns must switch from large production sites in a single location, such as China, to numerous smaller facilities around the world to reduce business risk, the study Covid‐19 and Alternative: Conceptualizations of Value and Risk in GPN Research’ noted.

The two authors of the report, Professors John Bryson and Vida Vanchan have published their findings in Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie  that highlights factors such as Stability, reliability, resilience and predictability are critical in the design of global production networks that balance risk versus reward and harmonize economic value with values related to reliability, resilience and location.

“There is a real tension between optimization of GPN and risks which ripple out across the globe. COVID-19 is the first time that these ripples have impacted on every country and the majority of people living on this planet,” report co-author Professor John Bryson, from the University of Birmingham, commented.

“It is unfortunate that companies, governments and geographers did not consider the outbreak of SARS in late 2002 as a test bed to develop new approaches to the management of risk. GPNs and offshoring, come with many risks that have been ignored.

“There is a critical social science debate within geography that must move from celebrating the dominance of GPNs as an organizational form to an on-going critical reframing that accepts that a fundamental rethink is required by global manufacturing concerns.”

Researchers used a database of 91 American companies to show that current dominant account of globalization cannot explain the international strategies of 25% of these firms. However, they found coronavirus highlights that the most effective GPNs balance cost control against risk – balancing production facilities in core markets against over-reliance on facilities located in lower-cost locations.

The rapid speed and economic impacts of COVID-19 have shifted the balance between state, citizens and businesses within national economies. During the pandemic, the state has engaged in a process of nationalization with its exceptional degree of support for businesses and employees – becoming a key consumer and surrogate employer.

Researchers highlight that the most common operational response amongst American firms to the China-US trade war involved relocating suppliers from China to another low-cost country.

 

Other research appeared earlier this month also noted that global supply chain and global production is set for significant transformation in the decade ahead as the COVID-19 pandemic amplifies challenges.

A new report by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled World Investment Report 2020 said that three key technology trends will shape global production: robotics-enabled automation, enhanced supply chain digitalization and additive manufacturing, it said.

Existing trends deriving from the challenges of growing economic nationalism, the new industrial revolution and the sustainability imperative were already steadily brewing towards an inflection point and the outbreak of the pandemic looks set to tip the scales further, the report said.

“The major transformation underway in international production will profoundly impact developing countries over the coming decade. This may call for major policy rethink,” said UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi.

The pace and extent of new technological adoption will partly depend on the policy environment for trade and investment, which is trending towards more interventionism, rising protectionism and a shift to regional and bilateral frameworks, he said.

On a brighter note, researchers at University of Birmingham observed that the impact of COVID-19 has seen firms beginning to develop strategies dealing with supply chain disruptions – with larger firms building regional supply chains, leaning more on technology for smaller firms, and focusing on efficiency and resilience.

“Globalization is not a novel concept, but COVID-19 has highlighted the risks associated with increasing interconnectedness of people and places through economic, political, cultural, and environmental changes,” Professor Bryson added.

“Existing thinking on GPN design minimizes costs and maximizes economic ‘value’ rather than balancing profit against risk reduction – a high-risk approach that must change. We must reframe the debate on globalization around the benefits and risks associated with deepening globalization.”

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at Trivone Digital, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com