As the world continues to grapple with new and lingering supply chain issues, the World Trade Organization (WTO) hosted an event to discuss the reasons for the ongoing bottlenecks, shortages and delays. – which one speaker said could be “the new normal” – and what interventions and innovations are needed to combat them.
The Global Supply Chain Forum was held virtually on March 21, 2022.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala opened the event by reflecting on the effects of supply chain disruptions on areas such as economic growth, price stability and global food security. “Like the WTO itself, our supply chain infrastructure must remain fit for purpose,” she said, saying it must adapt to current challenges such as climate change, COVID-19 and the conflict in Ukraine.
Speakers called for decarbonizing transportation, the only sector still seeing emissions growth.
In a fireside chat, leaders from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the International Trade Center and the International Chamber of Commerce identified key challenges affecting global supply chains, such as intense fluctuations in supply and demand, disruptions to transportation and logistics services, and the need for decarbonization, circularity, sustainable sourcing, and transparency. They also highlighted the disproportionate impacts of supply chain disruptions on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), particularly in developing and emerging economies. One speaker highlighted the potential for bold policy reforms in the areas of digitalization and trade finance to support those most affected.
The first roundtable of the event brought together representatives from MSC Group, Hutchinson Ports, the Government of the Republic of The Gambia, Mohammadi Group, Standard Chartered and the WTO. The discussion highlighted the insufficient onshore infrastructure to cope with an increase in demand for durable consumer goods caused by shifting consumer preferences during the pandemic – a problem that has been further exacerbated by labor shortages. due to illness and government restrictions. Potential solutions, speakers said, include investing more in technology and automation, building better port and hinterland infrastructure, reducing bureaucracy and establishing better collaboration between the public and private.
In The Gambia, the government reported that it had managed to cope with rising commodity costs by instituting: a food aid programme, a price transparency mechanism, a flexible tax payment scheme and a support for capacity building of MSMEs. Other speakers also reflected on the need for accessible supply chain finance programs and global sustainability standards.
In another roundtable, representatives from the Mexican government, the International Transport Forum, UPS, Flexport, Aequalitas Capital Partners and the WTO discussed ways to build resilient supply chains and inclusive. Speakers said:
- The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement has facilitated a more inclusive business environment and made it easier for MSMEs to participate in international markets.
- Providing training to MSMEs on how to make the most of digital tools for trade can help them expand their markets and build their resilience.
- Innovations in data and technology can enable port infrastructure to meet consumer demand. In particular, data optimization and sharing can be important tools to make routing and loading more efficient.
- Sectors need to work together to decarbonize transportation, the only sector still seeing emissions growth.
- The “blind spots” of information must be filled by improving transparency and traceability. Some speakers suggested developing a unified reporting standard for sustainability indicators, as well as processes and procedures to help MSMEs achieve certification. It could also help consumers make more informed choices and prevent greenwashing.
The panel ended with remarks from Usha Chandnee Dwarka-Canabady, Ambassador of Mauritius and new Chair of the WTO Committee on Trade and Development, who said that the challenges highlighted during the discussion are not necessarily “shocks to the system”. I think what we face today is the new normal. She argued that disruptions related to climate change, as well as other unexpected shocks, will continue to occur and will continue to affect countries unevenly. [Global Supply Chains Forum]