China has had a tough 2020. Intellectual property rights infringement, stealing university and U.S. government-funded research, spys routed out in public, Hong-Kong takeover, Human-right abuses, Coronavirus cover-ups, supply-chain bog downs, and the list goes on. The conclusion is that China has lost its luster with businesses in the United States and abroad. These issues are not new; instead, they have reached a boiling point where the international business community is getting leary of putting too many eggs in China’s basket. The U.S. government has certainly done its share to bring many of these things to light. And while this is happening, and companies look elsewhere to move, the possibilities of increasing North America manufacturing has become more attractive than ever.
There is a new era of business cooperation between US-Mexico-Canada that is ever-increasing in popularity. With the recent USMCA (the United States Mexico Canada Agreement) trade agreement replacing the dated NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), there are more opportunities for North American companies to bring manufacturing back home than ever before.
Manufacturing in Mexico, for many businesses, especially automotive and technology companies, is nothing new. However, with China under the microscope due to its behavior and government interference, suddenly bringing supply chains back over the Pacific to North American soil has never looked so good.
Here are the facts: China has benefited from a government-subsidized manufacturing environment, which for years has put companies’ intellectual property in jeopardy. Now, knockoffs and direct competition against the same companies China once courted manufacturing business from, in many cases, have forced the international business community to carefully reconsider their dealings with the superpower. Companies are getting smarter: they want faster time-to-market and just-in-time inventories to save money and transit time, especially with recent challenges. Imagine if during the coronavirus pandemic a company’s second and third-tier parts suppliers were half a world away; suddenly, Mexico and Canada seem much more attractive.
However, supply chain security is something to be considered carefully, whether manufacturing in China, India, the European Union, or on the other side of the Rio Grande River. The movement of goods and services need to be secure, and no matter how much you are saving on labor, if you are losing inventory due to criminal activity, that can heavily impact your bottom line. Organized crime has a prime time slot when it comes to international trade constructs, and the Cartels south of the border are no laughing matter. Whether smuggling over drugs and humans, or heisting valuable manufacturing parts, they are in the game for whatever it takes to make a buck, and it's a syndicate worth billions.
One of the significant programs managed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations is CTPAT, or “Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism,” that requires a certification for trade partners to get preferential treatment in foreign countries. A large portion of the companies in the program are U.S.-based; however, all companies must go through an extensive supply chain security audit and process to eventually get this certification by the government and ultimately speed up their way through security checkpoints, including ports of entries. For companies manufacturing and shipping from Mexico and Canada, it is of particular importance, since it can be the difference between longer wait times at the border to cross merchandise. Instead, having a certification allows for expedited treatment through segmented traffic lanes and decreased secondary inspections at those points of entry.
The CTPAT program is central to the U.S. supply chain, especially in our neighboring countries, to ensure trade is safe, efficient, and consistent in order to move goods to their destinations just-in-time. It has become the staple certification for every Fortune 1000 company doing business across our land and maritime borders. In the case of supply chains routed through Laredo, Texas, the U.S.'s busiest port of entry, with approximately 8,500 commercial trucks processed daily and accounting for nearly 65% of all USMCA trade, the certification is paramount.
That is not to say that companies, both those that participate and those which do not, can relax when it comes to maintaining vigilance. Over 12,000 trucks flow over the U.S.-Mexico border each day, with another three to four thousand passing over the northern border. And, many things ship over the border without the knowledge of the companies involved. It's merely a numbers game for the organized crime syndicates; in fact, more drugs come into the U.S. through our ports of entries than do in-between our ports. The security of these conveyances is vital to ensure incidents are kept to a minimum, but there must be a fair balance achieved between free-flow of trade and security.
The rub between trade and the government has not changed since the beginning. Companies in the United States understand that supply chain security is part of national security in many facets of the word. Ultimately, trade wants goods to move through the system faster and more efficiently, while the government is charged with ensuring its country’s security and safety. The truth is that there is no way to be 100% sure that every piece of cargo is free of anomalies. The U.S. Customs does the best job it can with the personnel, technology, and resources it has at its disposal, but it is never enough. The trade volume between all three countries is too great, and the pressure from Washington and the trade lobby is too intense. It's an issue that's debated weekly, and there is no total solution to the problem. The best we can do is ensure that inspectors have the best possible equipment and training and the fight is taken to the points of origination by working with authorities in each country to help ensure the best possible supply chain.
Yet, with all the issues that make up international trade, the matter of the fact is that in today's environment, companies don't want to worry about their product or services being poached, or to be plagued by bureaucratic issues or distance to market. Therefore, the environment for bringing trade back to this continent is ripe for the picking, and companies are taking a serious look at making changes in order to disentangle themselves from China or other suppliers overseas. Supply chain security will follow with bi-national cooperation; and it's all part of strengthening the economy.
This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.