Daily Archives: July 11, 2012

Supply Chain Difficulties in Latin America

Inbound Logistics recently ran a great article on Beating the Odds in Latin America that did a good job of summarizing the changing situation in Latin America and the challenges associated with your Latin American Supply Chain. Given that it might be true that Latin America “is all about growth”, it’s a market you want to understand.

The first challenge that the article pointed out is that of logistics costs that are high compared to other regions of the world-about 15 percent of the cost of goods sold. Ouch! Like parts of India and Northern China, transportation options are few, roads are not great, rail is (almost) non-existent in many places, and ports are congested. As more investment flows into the region, the situation will improve as it did in China and India. The situation in Brazil in particular is going to improve rapidly with the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games on the radar. And this isn’t the only transportation issue. The transportation industry is fragmented in Latin America, with a lot of small players and this makes it more difficult to manage, especially when handling volume spikes.

The second challenge is that of lagging productivity. Average productivity in the region has increased only 1.4% per year for the past 20 years, which is much less than in Asian economies. This is partly due to restrictive labour rules and sector specific regulations but also due to taxes and lack of investment.

The third challenge is that of supply chain expertise — there is a relative lack thereof in Latin America. Universities aren’t even offering logistics degrees yet, yet alone supply chain management degrees. Without even basic Operations Research programs, people entering the logistics field have to learn everything from how to manage a distribution centre to how to interact with customers.

The fourth challenge is that of systems. Technology systems infrastructure generally lack sophistication, and in some cases, even availability. Plus, for an average logistics carrier in the region, a TMS (Transportation Management System) is too expensive for a single company to justify. As a result, many companies end up doing a lot of manual work that is time and cost intensive.

The fifth, and final challenge, that was noted is that of security. Crime is pervasive throughout Latin America, and takes a heavy toll. The homicide rate in some Latin American cities is extremely high. For example, the crime rate in Rio de Janeiro has eight (8) times as many homicides as New York on an annual basis and eleven (11) times as many as Toronto. Plus, surface transportation is the most difficult security risk area of the supply chain in Latin America. Sincethere usually aren’t multiple routes to destinations within a country. In many cases, criminals simply block the highway and start checking trucks to see what products they like and they get away with it because the police are understaffed so they cannot patrol every road.

It’s not an easy situation, but it does appear to be a navigable one for those willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.