Over the past month, business and general media has been reporting on leaked and other types of information stemming from the ongoing Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks currently underway concerning a proposed trade agreement among 12 nations including several Pacific Rim countries and the United States. The stated goals of the TPP are to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, to promote innovation, economic growth and development, and to support the creation and retention of jobs.” The latter portion of job creation is the most political and most impactful to industry global sourcing strategy.

The latest round of negotiations that occurred in Hawaii at the end of August ended without any sense of major agreement and the ongoing process remains politically charged among potential partner countries. What has been capturing the interest of Supply Chain Matters is the consideration and weighting that has been placed on global supply sourcing for certain key industries.

Automotive Supply Chain Impacts

Much of traditional business media reporting has been concentrated on the implications to the automotive industry. Major automotive OEM’s do not want this agreement to upend existing global sourcing strategies for component supply. Both Bloomberg Businessweek and The Wall Street Journal have recently reported that Mexico’s primary automotive industry group, which has been booming from continued new sourcing of production announcements from various global auto producers, has thrown a wrench into the current talks.

Mexico overtook Japan to become the second-largest exporter of vehicles to the U.S., primarily because existing free-trade agreements have attracted new plant investments from various global brands.  In essence, the country wants to protect its interests in the definition of “rules of origin” and what would be classified as duty-free imports to the U.S.  Under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 62.5 percent of component sourcing must come from within the NAFTA free-trade area to qualify as duty-free. Bloomberg reports that Washington tentatively agreed that Japan based automotive producers should be allowed to ship vehicles duty-free to the U.S., even if upwards of 50 percent of component sourcing comes from non-TPP countries. Component suppliers from both Mexico and Canada are reportedly lobbying for negotiators to stand pat with NAFTA guidelines. Meanwhile, autoworkers in all three NAFTA countries are voicing the need for fairer standards, and not allowing Asia-Pac car companies to game the system in favor of more job creation among lower cost manufacturing regions.

U.S. based automotive OEM’s have been similarly vocal as well, declaring that they rely on global supply chains to be able to competitively manufacture vehicles in the U.S. Nations such as Malaysia and Vietnam anticipate that the TPP will provide an incentive for each of these countries to increase their presence in supply of automotive supply chains, but Thailand is now an important component sourcing hub for Japan based OEM’s.

Dairy Industry Exports

Another area of dispute is that of dairy based imports, which are the basis of supply for other food related producers. New Zealand’s economy is dependent on exports of dairy products, which is prompting that country to lobby for broader access to markets of TPP member countries including Canada. Dairy imports into Canada currently invoke a tariff in excess of 200 percent, and that country’s politicians fear a backlash in the upcoming federal elections in October if they dare agree to cutback current tariffs that protect Canadian dairy farmers. New Zealand reportedly is holding firm that the country will not sign any new trade agreement that does not open new dairy related markets.

Apparel and Textile Sourcing

For the apparel and textile industry, only clothing that is wholly sourced and produced within TPP nations qualify for duty-free sales. A recent report from Time points out that Vietnam, currently the second-largest exporter of apparel to the United States, is only able to produce a fifth of the fabric it needs to supply finished apparel to global markets. Vietnam currently imports nearly $5 billion of fabric from China, a non-TPP country, and that scale of fabric sourcing must shift. However, current U.S. tariffs of Vietnam sourced apparel which are currently 32 percent would be eliminated, perhaps adding some impetus for finding new TPP-centric sources of fabric.

High Tech Sourcing

Similarly, high tech and consumer electronics producers have a current high sourcing content dependency on China and Taiwan, and to some extent, the Philippines and Thailand for component supply. Some high tech companies have initiated their own political lobbying to insure any TPP agreement does not impose a competitive or cost disadvantage for their products. Consider how much of the value-chain components of an iPhone or iPad are sourced from non TPP regions.

Clock is Ticking

The clock is ticking on whether a final agreement on TPP can be reached soon. The U.S. Presidential sweepstakes is well underway, and member nations have their own political events that will hold legislators to task.  In the end, it would appear that any TPP agreement will have some direct and probably indirect impacts on global component sourcing strategies for multiple industries.

Bob Ferrari