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Complete decoupling from China virtually impossible

28 May 2024

The era of the easy, frictionless supply chain is over, however, according to a report from GlobalData.

IN A post-pandemic world, companies had to adopt a just-in-case strategy for their supply chains, where hoarding inventory offered a safety net for unforeseen supply chain disruptions. However, reworking supply chains is complex and expensive, with no quick fixes. As the world’s manufacturing hub, China controls many global supply chains. Given the country’s massive investments in digital and clean energy technologies, a complete decoupling from China is virtually impossible, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s latest report Thematic Intelligence: Supply Chain Disruption explores how companies can improve supply chain resilience by relocating production closer to home, diversifying their supply chain, digitalising their networks, and adopting a circular economy model.

GlobalData thematic analyst Carolina Pinto, says: “Supply chain disruptions are becoming worse and more frequent. These disruptions are exacerbated by geopolitical fractures, climate change, and demographic changes. However, it is trade restrictions that are primarily driving the reshoring efforts.”

From materials to end products, Chinese suppliers are not only major producers of consumer goods and electronics, but China also dominates the solar panels, batteries, and 5G infrastructure industries. Strong economic growth and other developments have changed some of the factors that first made China an attractive manufacturing destination, namely: China no longer has the scale of cheap labour it once had; China has a shrinking population; and China is a major target of decoupling efforts.

The US-China trade war is increasing the regulatory and reputational risks of doing business in China. More and more companies are relocating their manufacturing to countries that carry less geopolitical risk.

Pinto continues: “The Chinese government’s long-term plan to make China self-sufficient anticipated the importance of emerging technologies to the future global economy and invested billions in digital and clean energy technologies. A fast and cost-effective energy transition will still rely heavily on Chinese supply chains.”

Alternatives to China

Companies must assess the best destination for relocating production and finding new suppliers to decouple from China and build supply chain resilience. Depending on a country’s physical infrastructure, workforce, and existing industrial environment, a company can choose to move supply chain operations back to its home country, a nearby country, or a politically and economically allied country.

Pinto adds: “Both Western governments and the Chinese government are heavily subsidising reshoring efforts of critical industries. However, high production costs and severe labour shortages make reshoring for Western companies a costlier process.”

Western companies are more likely to nearshore or friendshore, meaning they move supply chain operations closer to the final consumer, but not back to the home country. This can reduce the cost of transportation while complying with trade restrictions and avoiding high labour costs.”