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Global Supply Chains in a Post-Pandemic World

When the Covid-19 pandemic subsides, the world is going to look markedly different. The supply shock that started in China in February and the demand shock that followed as the global economy shut down exposed vulnerabilities in the production strategies and supply chains of firms just about everywhere. Temporary trade restrictions and shortages of pharmaceuticals, critical medical supplies, and other products highlighted their weaknesses. Those developments, combined with the U.S.-China trade war, have triggered a rise in economic nationalism. As a consequence of all this, manufacturers worldwide are going to be under greater political and competitive pressures to increase their domestic production, grow employment in their home countries, reduce or even eliminate their dependence on sources that are perceived as risky, and rethink their use of lean manufacturing strategies that involve minimizing the amount of inventory held in their global supply chains.

Yet many things are not going to change. Consumers will continue to want low prices (especially in a recession), and firms won’t be able to charge more just because they manufacture in higher-cost home markets. Competition will ensure that. In addition, the pressure to operate efficiently and use capital and manufacturing capacity frugally will remain unrelenting.

The challenge for companies will be to make their supply chains more resilient without weakening their competitiveness. To meet that challenge, managers should first understand their vulnerabilities and then consider a number of steps—some of which they should have taken long before the pandemic struck.

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