A dysfunctional supply chain is not good for economic health in B.C. or anywhere else. It’s not much good for overall public health either. The challenges facing goods movement along the critical transpacific trade loop outlined in last week’s BIV print edition underscore the upheaval visited upon container cargo and other shipping companies by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ocean carriers, terminals, ports, truckers and railways face a battle on several fronts. Aside from health risks and management of a depleted workforce, all links in transpacific chains supply have had to shift from early 2020’s dead stop to its second-half hyperactivity in a business that is not geared for rapid and unexpected course corrections. It is also a business that is necessarily physically interdependent but not necessarily seamlessly interconnected. All those links need a co-ordinated digital overhaul. Twenty-first century e-commerce efficiency demands it, but pandemic economics and the lack of standardized data systems and sharing weigh heavily against it. In the meantime, customers most vulnerable to supply chain disruption will pay the price for delays in improving cargo movement and reliability. A recent Oxford Economics research briefing provided a scorecard of supplier vulnerabilities to supply chain disruptions and how they affect industrial and health sectors. The rankings were based on four key factors: product complexity, global inventory, reliance on Chinese suppliers and the projected strength of 2021’s economic recovery. High upon the scorecard’s list of the products and sectors most vulnerable to supply chain disruption were electronics, electric vehicles and industrial machinery. The distribution of vaccines and other pharmaceuticals is also extremely vulnerable to supply chain weaknesses. Aside from confirming the need for more than shipping companies to improve efficiency in those chains, the Oxford Economics scorecard reaffirms the importance of domestic production of high-priority goods and services.