Geopolotical Damnation 29: Trade Embargoes

Today’s supply chains depend on global sourcing and global trade. However, a single trade embargo with a single country on a single commodity can disrupt an entire supply chain. If you depend on apples for your primary CPG product line, beef for your restaurants, or rare earth minerals for your cell phone, and your primary supply line gets cut off, now what?

Or, even worse, if the country in question decides that gaming systems are destroying society and your main product is a gaming system, that gambling is now illegal and your main products are video lottery machines, or that coal is too dirty to burn and your company is a mining operation, instead of case closed, it could be business closed. (And all of these situations have happened in recent years!)

Note that an embargo is more than just a block on trade, it’s also a restriction on trade that restricts how much can be imported or exported or the tariffs that are charged to import or export. For example, China recently ended it’s export quota for rare-earth minerals essential for high-technology products including smartphones. But what if it’s re-instituted, and re-instituted more restricted than before? Especially when they supply up to 97% of the rare earth minerals needed worldwide?

Or what happens when a country decides that it wants to enforce a buy-local policy and increases import tariffs on a category from 10% to 100% or more? For example, last December the US Department of Commerce announced new anti-dumping and anti-subsidy rates for PV (photovoltaic) products imported from China and Taiwan, with the primary CVD (chemical vapour decomposition) rate for Trina Solar increasing from 18.56% to 49.79% in less than six months. This is nothing compared to the “China-wide” rate of 165% for smaller PV providers! But the US isn’t the only company that does this. Every country in the BRICS is constantly changing their import rates as well, sometimes in response to North American or Europe rate changes, sometimes in response to local taxpayer and/or lobbyist demand. (Brazil recently updated its HS code 80 times in one year!)

Needless to say, a tripling of the import/export rate or a restriction on exports that cuts your limited supply in half can be almost as damaging as a full embargo against a commodity or product. If the restriction results in a widespread failure to meet the demand, which in turn results in bad press, the end result could be considerable brand damage and a widespread migration of your customers to your competitor. This drop in revenue puts the entire company at risk, which will greatly impact the Procurement budget and the ability of the department to perform!