WTO Moves Closer to Tariff-Free Classification of IT Products: Supply Chain Opportunities and Impacts
Late last week, the World Trade Organization (WTO) reached a landmark $1.3 trillion deal that addresses the categorization of 201 information technology products that will be freed from import tariffs. Among the products covered in this agreement are new-generation semi-conductors, GPS navigation systems, medical products which include magnetic resonance imaging machines, machine tools for manufacturing printed circuits, telecommunications satellites and touch screens. Once approved, the agreement will update an Information Technology Agreement that has not been updated for the past 18 years.
According to the WTO, the tentative accord reached by 54 of its members was confirmed as the basis for implementation work to begin. Ministers from the participating members will now work to conclude their implementation plans in time for the WTO’s 10th Ministerial Conference which will be held in Nairobi this December. Five of the total number of countries needed for final signoff has thus-far not signed up. Those countries include Colombia, Mauritius, Taiwan, Turkey and Thailand. The Director of WTO has indicated to news sources that approval from the remaining countries is due to process delays, and expects the required additional countries to sign-up soon.
This latest categorization is being billed as the first global tariff-cutting in 18 years with the implication that globally-based consumers should eventually benefit in purchases of computers, game consoles, touch-screen devices and other consumer electronics products. All 161 WTO members are expected to benefit from this agreement, as they will all enjoy duty-free market access in the markets of those members who are eliminating tariffs on these high tech products. According to the WTO, the terms of the agreement will be formally circulated to the full membership at a meeting of the WTO General Council on 28 July.
A published Reuters report indicates that high-tech manufacturers General Electric, Intel, Microsoft, Nintendo and Texas Instruments are among those firms expected to benefit from the free-up tariffs. A U.S. trade representative indicated to Reuters that more than $100 billion in U.S. exports alone would be covered by the updated agreement.
The implication to hi-tech and consumer electronics industry supply chains is significant.
A considerable amount of new products and product categories have been added since these tariffs were originally created 18 years ago, and with over 200 products designated to be free of import tariffs and duty-free trade, the industry as a whole stands to benefit by increased global market access and more streamlined, direct flows to end markets. The notions of offshore and near-shore production as well as new opportunities for push-pull customer fulfillment strategies can well benefit from this development of tariff-free components and products. On the other hand, the competitive landscape of regional brands competing with global brands will magnify.
By our Supply Chain Matters lens, the agreement will have implications to current manufacturing sourcing of high-tech and consumer electronics products since the assumptions concerning added tariff costs will obviously change. Supply chain strategy teams should therefore plan on a refresh supply chain network design models in light of these tariff-free assumptions to uncover any new opportunities for more efficient or enhanced customer fulfillment focused manufacturing and sourcing of end-products.
In June, The United States House of Representatives voted to repeal country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef, pork, and chicken and social media commentary regarding the move continues to dominate as an ongoing trending topic. The reasons are obvious- consumers demand and expect knowledge as to the specific sourcing origins of food products. Consumers are right to be concerned and watchful, and the impact of these actions continue to impact food, beverage and consumer product goods focused supply chains.
The original COOL legislation had good intent, requiring meat products sold in supermarkets and grocery stores to specifically indicate where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Reports indicate that the original law was prompted by the lobbying of U.S. ranchers who compete with the Canadian cattle industry, and later garnered the interest of consumer watchdog interests.
But this current ongoing process now involves the political and economic implications of other supply chains, in addition to food.
The broader issue involves the World Trade Organization (WTO) which after the initial U.S. legislation was passed, ruled that the labels regarding animal origin would have a discriminatory impact against the two U.S. border countries, Canada and Mexico, and thus a barrier to free trade. Both border countries indicate that the law requires that animals be segregated by country of origin, a costly process that has U.S. wholesale buyers avoiding the buying of export origin meat products.
Both countries are seeking permission to impose what is described as billions of dollars in added tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation. And there lies the supply chain impact which threatens to change the existing economics and stakeholder interests of cross-border trade.
U.S. legislators are thus caught in what is described as a damned if you do, or damned if you do not conundrum regarding the existing COOL repeal legislation which has now moved to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
In order to seek additional insights regarding the implications of COOL, Supply Chain Matters had the opportunity to recently speak with Candace Sider, vice-president of regulatory affairs, Canada, at international trade compliance services provider Livingston International. Ms. Sider has a significant background in understanding Canada’s regulatory processes involving interaction with federal and provincial officials, regulatory agencies and policymakers.
She explained that Canada viewed the original U.S. COOL labeling requirements as having a $3 billion impact on that country’s cattle and hog industry. During the current arbitration period, decisions are expected to be made as to what commodities would remain on the original impacted list. If the surtax were to be implemented, importation from the U.S. of the subject products could ultimately passed on to consumers. The U.S. government has indicated to the WTO that it disputes Canada’s figures. However, Canada is preparing to lift tariffs on U.S. imports that include in excess of 100 different commodities including products such as range and refrigerator parts, wine, and yes, chocolates.
The WTO is not expected to rule on the U.S.’s latest appeal to the threatened tariff increases until early August, or possibly September. Meanwhile, the implication of the ongoing dispute actually impacts more than just meat-focused supply chains.
Livingston is currently advising its clients to prepare for a number of potential scenarios involving the ongoing trade dispute process invoked by COOL.
Where all of this eventually ends-up is subject to many viewpoints. After all, this is very much a process driven by economic, multi-industry and lobbyist forces.
However, one aspect is clear. The complexity of today’s globally based supply chains takes on many different dimensions and implications. While you might have perceived that legislation affecting packaging disclosure of meat products has little to do with service parts, chocolates and wine, it indeed does. The takeaway is to nurture contacts and resources that can alert your team to ever changing developments and multi-industry implications.
Today, The Wall Street Journal announced the launching of an editorial vertical to be termed WSJ Logistics Report, with the prime sponsor being global package delivery provider UPS whom will supplement this site’s dedicated subject-matter coverage with sponsored content, (supposedly to be cleared labeled). The fact that our broad-based supply chain management community will have a business media resource destination for dedicated logistics and transportation news and editorials is a noteworthy step.
We at Supply Chain Matters will continue to do our part in insuring that readers are alerted to noteworthy news and editorials and that such content represents what we consider to be a balanced view of developments.
To kick off reader interest in the topic, today’s U.S. printed edition of the WSJ featured a front page article, Bigger Ships Snarl U.S. Ports. (Paid subscription or free metered view) This article reinforces what you have perhaps already experienced within your supply chain or read on this blog, namely that the introduction of far larger container ships into operational service is adding increased logistical challenges and congestion among many U.S. ports.
In the wake of the proposed February settlement of labor contract talks involving U.S. West Coast ports, Supply Chain Matters has posted advisories to industry supply chain teams to not assume that the logistical challenges and port gridlock that were amplified last fall would not happen again. Today’s WSJ article succinctly reinforces that message.
Reported is that congestion is becoming increasingly common among both U.S. West and now East coast ports, and according to the article authors: “ … a problem that could have profound implications for the $900 billion worth of goods transported to and from the U.S. each year by container ships.”
Increasingly larger container carrying vessels are overwhelming ports that were not designed nor equipped to handle such volumes carried by a single vessel. The WSJ cites American Association of Port Authorities data indicating that of the 10 busiest U.S. ports by container volume, at least seven are struggling with daily congestion. The effect is much more time required to unload and load vessels with extraordinarily longer waiting times for trucks to unload and load containers at port facilities. The WSJ cites specific examples occurring of late at the Port of Newark and Port of Virginia. In March, rising container volume and backups exacerbated by frequent winter storms reportedly pushed the Virginia International Gateway (Port of Portsmouth) beyond capacity prompting the need for overtime work, only to have to clear a subsequent backlog caused by the subsequent arrival of a single mega-ship.
Just this week, hundreds of frustrated truck drivers serving the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles went on strike, refusing to service the ports citing wage theft grievances. Four of the largest trucking firms servicing these ports classify truckers as independent contractors and thus drivers incur financial penalties with excessive wait times since payment is predicated on deliveries vs. an hourly compensation.
Compounding the problem are misplacement and/or unavailability of container chassis required for on-road travel. And as many industry experts have noted, the situation will only get worse without concerted industry actions and added investments in port automation. The WSJ quotes a retail industry strategist at Kurt Salmon indicating that shipping delays could reach $7 billion this year and climb as high as $37 billion by 2016.
That is a significant quantification of a multi-industry problem that requires resolution.
The problem itself stems from a combination of economic and industry forces on many sides. Ocean container lines, plagued by overcapacity and high costs, elected to invest in the larger vessels to save on operating costs. Larger ships and lower shipping volumes compounded into the need for multiple shipping lines to form capacity alliances with the implication that a single mega-ship will carry containers representing multiple shipping lines with different administrative and logistical processes.
While many industry supply chain teams are now re-evaluating shipment routing and logistics flows in the wake of the U.S. West Coast ports crisis these past months, the realty they are facing is that U.S. east coast ports are subject to the same logistical challenges and perhaps work stoppages.
The takeaway from our Supply Chain Matters lens is that while all of the industry is focused on solving ever increasing logistical challenges among U.S. ports, there appears to be little concerted industry and government actions related to long-term resolution. Carriers, ports, organized labor and transportation carriers are each addressing their specific business and financial agendas with little consideration of the overall global logistics implications being unanswered and unaddressed. Perhaps the assumption is that governments, public agencies, consumers and taxpayers will each have to determine and fund a resolution. That is not feasible.
In closing our commentary, we urge industry wide forums, legislative leaders, publications and media such as the WSJ Logistics Report to shed more light, attention and resolve toward required efforts among all stakeholders to address the root causes and required remedies of U.S. port congestion.
We concur that there are considerable industry supply chain impacts, both financial and operational at-stake.
Ocean container shipping and logistics are the lifeblood of global supply chain movements. For over two years, Supply Chain Matters has been advising our multi-industry supply chain readers about the effects of substantial overcapacity conditions occurring among major shipping lines, and their consequent impacts for service, cost and logistics. Efforts directed at introducing ever larger mega-ships, multi-carrier capacity agreements, outsourcing of certain services and increased transit times and tariff rates continue to compound themselves.
All of this places industry supply chains on the short end of any semblance of voice of the customer outcomes. The literal final straw has been the effects of the recent five month U.S. West Coast port disruption, which will take additional weeks or months to unravel.
Now, strategic advisor Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has weighed in with a recent bcg perspectives report, Battling Overcapacity in Container Shipping. This report concludes: “The container-shipping industry has a highly fragmented value-chain, marked by complexity, overcapacity, and low returns.” The authors declare that overcapacity has fueled a downward spiral of decreased earnings and marginal shareholder value.
The report describes four destabilizing changes occurring in the industry, and observes that there are just two industry participants actually making money. They are two termed “global-scale leaders”, namely CMA CGM and Maersk Line, and the termed “niche-focused specialists” who have developed sustainable competitive advantage serving specific regions.
BCG advises the industry that in order to lift profitability, carriers will have to extract more value from commonly used cost and revenue-improvement levers and pursue scale by further unlocking synergies and more aggressively pursuing acquisitions. BCG argues that carriers have yet to tap the potential of multi-carrier capacity agreements. In the short-term, BCG warns that the current low cost of bunker fuel may provide a false sense of security for shipping lines. They define further opportunities as extended joint procurement agreements, joint operations and equipment pooling in the short-term, and joint back-offices, shared service centers and IT development over the long-term.
If shipping industry players actually embrace these BCG recommendations and advisory actions, industry supply chain teams can well anticipate even more heartburn in the months to come.
Implied is more wholesale M&A among large and mid-tier shipping lines. Joint carrier containers on single ships and back office shared service centers could well be predicated on decades old information technology, not tuned for today’s nor tomorrow’s customer service and container tracking needs. Investments in larger, more efficient vessels has not as yet been matched by corresponding investments in modernized IT and productivity directed at enhanced shipper intelligence and port throughput needs.
Larger mega-ships implies even more port congestion, since it will take longer to unload and re-load these vessels without solving the challenge of modernizing individual port infrastructure. Bottom-line: Solving the business challenges of ocean container shipping lines transfers burdens to existing ports and multi-modal logistics centers.
Supply Chain Matters advocates for a more comprehensive multi-industry approach, one that spans beyond ocean container shipping. A highly fragmented industry with competing interests, motivations and stakeholder needs can elect to continue to pass current challenges to the next tier of the value-chain, or come together to focus on the primary objective of serving shipper and multi- industry recipient needs in the new age of integrated physical and digital value-chains. A clear missing piece of the strategy is modernized technology, work practices and multi-segment and inter-modal collaboration.
© 2015 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.
While global industry supply chain teams continue to work on enabling 2014 operational and business performance objectives, this is the opportunity for Supply Chain Matters to reflect on our 2014 Predictions for Global Supply Chains that we published in December of 2013.
Our research arm, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group has published annual predictions since our founding in 2008. We not only publish our annualized predictions, but score our predictions every year. After we conclude the self-rating process, we will then unveil our 2015 Annual Projections for Industry Supply Chain during the month of December.
As has been our custom, our scoring process will be based on a four point scale. Four will be the highest score, an indicator that we totally nailed the prediction. One is the lowest score, an indicator of, what on earth were we thinking? Ratings in the 2-3 range reflect that we probably had the right intent but events turned out different. Admittedly, our self-rating is subjective and readers are welcomed to add their own assessment of our predictions concerning this year.
But now is the time to look back and reflect on what we previously predicted and what actually occurred in 2014.
Our 2014 prediction concerning industry economic outlook summarized key economic forecasts in late 2013. Based on our review, we believed that the global economy would continue to present an environment of uncertainty in many dimensions, and turned out to be the case. However, we did note that economic forecasts at the time concerning 2014 were a bit more optimistic but come with many cautions or caveats. That turned out to be the case as well.
Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) originally forecasted 3.6 percent global-wide for 2014 and both agencies point to notable downside risks. In its early October update, The IMF adjusted its 2014 global growth forecast to 3.3 percent. The weaker than expected forecast was attributed to setbacks to economic activity in the advanced economies of the Eurozone Japan and Latin America. The agency acknowledged an ongoing higher than expected growth rate for the United States, following a temporary setback in Q1. For the emerging market countries, the IMF scaled back its growth projection for this area to 4.4 percent, while nailing China’s growth rate at a current 7.4 percent rate.
In its mid-September update, the OECD also noted solid growth for the United States with growth strengthening in India, and around trend in Japan and China. That agency also reinforced tepid growth for the Eurozone, but generally reports sub-par world trade growth with a slow pace of improvement in labor markets.
Our own tracking of select global PMI indices further reinforced a mixed global picture with the United States outpacing other regions in production and supply chain activity. Overall, and as predicted, 2014 has been a challenging for industry S&OP teams to plan, adjust and respond to product demand trends within individual geographic regions.
As predicted, commodity costs continued to moderate this year. As of mid-November 2014, the Standard and Poor’s GSCI Commodity Index was down 16.25 percent year-to-date. Prices advanced early in the year as a result of an overly severe winter, drought conditions in Brazil and fear of continued hostilities within the Ukraine. With the exception of the U.S. west coast, U.S. farms recovered from 2013 severe drought conditions and produced record crops of corn and soybeans.
China continues to be the largest consumer of a large variety of commodities and continued moderating growth in that region caused commodity prices to generally slide. Lower global demand caused a general contraction in commodity markets with certain exceptions. Aggregating the overall decline has been a stronger valuation of the U.S. dollar amongst other global currencies.
Exceptions remain in global supplies of coffee and beef, brought about by severe drought conditions, and cocoa, which could be impacted by the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
One of the most significant and noteworthy commodity trends in 2014 remains an overall 23 percent decline in the price of crude oil. At the beginning of this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) had forecasted a 2.8 percent in the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil with a 5.9 percent reduction in the per gallon cost of gasoline and diesel. At this writing, the price of crude has plunged to the mid-seventy dollar per barrel range. Retail prices for gasoline have broken through the $3 dollar per gallon barrier, 25 cents lower than a year ago and the lowest in nearly four years. The average price of diesel, currently $3.68 per gallon in the United States, is 16 cents lower than a year ago. Once more, current projections indicate oil prices will range in the $80 to $90 barrel range in 2015. This is all good news for global transportation and industry supply chain networks.
Summing-up, the easing of inbound pricing pressures afforded procurement teams the ability to hopefully turn attention to other important areas including deeper supplier collaboration, sustainability initiatives and joint product innovation.
This concludes Part One of our report card on our Supply Chain Matters 2014 Global Supply Chain Predictions. Stay tuned as we assess the remainder of our 2014 predictions in follow-on postings.
©2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.
This week, AP Moller-Maersk, parent of global leading ocean container shipping line Maersk reported rather positive Q3 financial results. For the third quarter, the shipping concern reported an overall net earnings increase of 25 percent on flat revenues. However, Maersk did take the opportunity to once again warn its investors of a continuing slowdown in global trade.
Financial highlights for the Maersk Line unit included revenues of $7.1B and profits of $554M. Return on invested capital was 13.5 percent compared with 10.9 percent a year earlier. Volumes increased by 3.7 percent, average rate increased by 0.9 percent while unit costs decreased by 0.9 percent. Fuel costs decreased 2.4 percent from the year earlier period.
According to reporting from the Financial Times (paid subscription or free metered view), aggressive cost cutting and lower use of fuel has made Maersk Line the most profitable in the industry. The publication notes that current operating margin of 10.5 percent is considerably higher than the average of industry rivals. Once more, Maersk boosted its operating margin over two percentage points in one quarter, and has the opportunity to continue boost future margins through the announced 10 year 2M vessel sharing alliance with rival Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).
Maersk CEO is again quoted as indicating that in essence, the glory days of rapid industry growth in containerized trade is over. Operators must now assume lower single-digit volume growth.
In the midst of continued industry-wide overcapacity and little industry volume growth, Maersk continues to demonstrate that it will aggressively compete for additional business and market-share. In September, Maersk Line announced a renewed ship acquisition program. It announced plans to invest upwards of $3B per year, for the next five years to acquire the equivalent of 30 new 14,000 TEU capacity vessels. That is despite its recent investments and delivery of new Triple-E vessels capable of handling upwards of 18,000 TEU’s. The new acquisition of more technologically advanced and more fuel efficient vessels further provide the opportunity to scrap older, less efficient vessels.
Included in our Supply Chain Matters Predictions for Global Supply Chains for the current year, we forecasted continued industry consolidation in surface transportation. Maersk’s continued financial performance and aggressive competitive stance adds further kindling for the industry’s lower-tied players to make additional moves or be left behind.
Supply Chain Matters will be scorecarding each our 2013 Predictions in the not too distant future.