All posts by Luke Snelling

World Trade and Procurement in the Trump Era

Trump’s trade  policies will greatly affect our global supply chains. How will increased protectionism and bilateral deals impact the procurement function?

Frantically attempting to understand the new modern world, commentators and experts are struggling to digest the political earthquakes of 2016. It remains wholly unclear what binds together the widespread nationalism, populism and division in countries around the world.

The threat to global supply chains

Trump has a clear dislike of international trade, preferring to shield the USA’s economy from competition. He has a disdain for businesses moving operations to other countries.

Whether or not organisations source much directly from non-domestic sources, they are dependent on global supply chains and networks. These networks are responsible for sourcing the goods and services to meet the needs of stakeholders. Threats to free trade pose challenges to procurement professionals and their ability to source goods and services efficiently and cost-effectively.

For many years, there has been a trend for opening up procurement markets. This trend has entailed removing tariffs on imports, opening up non-discriminatory bidding on public contracts to non-domestic businesses and harmonising regulatory regimes to make cross-border trade less bureaucratic and more efficient. This has allowed procurement teams to drive down costs and increase competition and product choice.

Trump’s abolition of free trade agreements

Since inauguration, Trump has honoured his commitments to abolish pending free trade agreements (FTAs) with the European Union and eleven Pacific Rim countries. Both contained provisions which would have opened up the procurement markets to non-discriminatory bidding for businesses across participating countries. This eases importing processes.

Trump also vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, which has been critical in creating and sustaining supply chains in North America.

With this move away from free trade, what are the prospects for continued integration of procurement markets in the Trump era? There are two points to cover – new bilateral FTAs including the USA and the movement towards free trade driven by powers beyond the USA.

The prospect of new bilateral deals

Firstly, whilst Trump has expressed a strong distaste for multilateral FTAs such as TTIP, TPP and NAFTA, he has sung the praises of bilateral deals. This has been strongly signalled with the UK in particular.  Trump has made some ambitious comments that there is a  deal ready to sign once the UK departs the EU.

If this were to happen, tariffs and perhaps other barriers would be removed, with the intention of easing cross-border trade.

The prospects for this are not great, however. With Trump’s “America first” agenda, it is not clear how easily any deals could come to fruition. FTAs are based on compromise, whereby countries grant reciprocal access to each others’ economies. For American companies to gain the ability to win public contracts as part of a deal with another country, access to American government contracts would need to be provided to businesses from the other country.

It is far from clear whether the new administration would accept the American government awarding contracts to more foreign companies, effectively moving the jobs associated with that contract to other countries.

China could be the driving force behind liberalising trade

The second topic is perhaps more pertinent then; this is the possibility that other countries or systems will emerge as the force behind liberalising procurement markets to replace a more protectionist and isolationist USA.

China’s global economic influence is steadily increasing. The TPP’s death presents China with the opportunity to be the leader in free trade. It is the lead behind the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Pact (RCEP), which includes sixteen countries, such as Australia, Japan, India and South Korea. In total, RCEP covers 30 per cent of global GDP and around half of the global population.

The agreement focuses on tariff removal, with some harmonisation of standards and intellectual property rights. RCEP is not equivalent to TPP in integrating procurement markets in different countries, however. Whilst procurement teams would benefit greatly from cheaper imports from elimination of tariffs, RCEP does not include detailed provisions of government procurement – non-discrimination does not look likely to be included. The eventual, and lofty, ambition of RCEP is to create a free trade area across the Asia Pacific.

Driving integration in procurement markets

Aside from China, multilateral institutions are perhaps the most likely to drive integration and liberalisation of procurement markets over the coming years. The European Union has long been a driver of liberalisation of procurement markets.

In 2016, the EU signed a detailed FTA with Canada,   including detailed provision for procurement.  It has pending agreements with countries such as Singapore and Vietnam and is in long-term discussions with an array of countries and trading blocs.

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO), Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), consisting of 47 members (including the EU28), reciprocally opens procurement markets. It is looking likely that Australia will accede to the GPA in 2017 and discussions of China becoming a full member, further opening up procurement markets.

Also within the WTO, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) is a proposed agreement to ease trade in services. This would include 50 countries, including the EU countries and the USA. With this, trade in services between the countries would become  frictionless and there would be elimination of preference for domestic suppliers, which might apply without a minimum value threshold for all government agencies.

Access to global markets is core for procurement

Globalisation continues to be much maligned by electorates and the media. But for procurement teams who rely on sourcing goods and services from around the world, either directly or indirectly, access to global markets is core to maximising value for money and ensuring public services are as effective and cost-efficient as possible. Without engaging in the broader political debates, it is clear that one industry needs access to suppliers of goods and services, without unnecessary barriers – the procurement industry.

President Trump and Procurement – The Impact

As the weeks unfold, we begin to get a better understanding of what impact a Trump Presidency will have on procurement.

trump impact procurement

There is, of course, no need to introduce the events of Tuesday 8th of November 2016 to readers. On that day, Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes to be elected as the next President of the USA.

The implications for the procurement industry may at times be daunting and hard to anticipate. However this article should shed some broad light on some of the possible implications. Two of the main implications are infrastructure spending and trade deals.

In terms of Trump’s policy platform, detail is so often conspicuous by its absence. In his “Contract with the American Voter” however, he has outlined extensive policy proposals for his first 100 days as President.

Impact on Infrastructure

The first likely impact is infrastructure, which is one key tenet of this “contract”. Despite having far-right positions on many areas, Trump does have more centrist positions on some areas, especially infrastructure investment.

This may well boost the economy, albeit fuelled by debt, unless highly ambitious funding mechanisms come to fruition. He has vowed to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over ten years. This would of course require huge procurement expertise for large road and bridge building and various other industries. We will have to wait and see what happens with building walls, however!

But the real impact of this expansive infrastructure spending would not be the huge procurement processes required, but more the method through which it may be achieved.

Whilst it is far from certain how the incoming administration could fund such a project, while providing perhaps the biggest ever tax cut, he would also need Congressional approval.

Public-Private Partnership Proposals

The infrastructure is not proposed as fully funded by the federal government, but largely through public-private partnerships (PPPs). If this sets a trend, the implications for funding of public services in the USA and other countries, especially developed market economies such as Western Europe, could be significant.

PPPs such as this have been generally successful in some cases and rampant failures in others. In the UK’s National Health Service for example, they have been a highly controversial mechanism. Many argue PPPs have fostered long-term financing issues, and harmed patient care and outcomes.

Further, many argue that the privatisation that PPPs cause brings about fundamental change to the relationship between the state and citizens. With this, public services are delivered based on promises of profit. For infrastructure investment to go ahead, it has to be based not on the gain for society, economy or environment, but where a surplus can be extracted.

Impact on Global Trade

The second main impact will be Trump’s influence on global trade, which is a driver of prosperity worldwide, alongside his threats of protectionism. Since the global financial crisis, cross-border trade has stagnated. This has been the longest period of stagnation for over 70 years.

Trump has an overtly protectionist stance. He has already threatened to hike tariffs on imports from China and Mexico, as well as pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

In broad economic terms, this would increase living costs for domestic citizens. It would, without any doubt, be reciprocated by other countries such as China (as early noise coming from Beijing confirms). It would also affect jobs in export industries in the USA and the USA’s economy as a whole.

For public procurement in the USA however, this could also be significant. American public services could be restricted from products they currently source cheaply from abroad.

The increased costs from domestic purchases have to be made up from somewhere, such as savings in other areas, purchasing lower quality goods or increasing costs for users of public services.

The same could be true in Canada and Mexico. If the USA pulls out of NAFTA and applies tariffs on Mexican and Canadian goods, reciprocal protectionism would restrict Canadian and Mexican access to high-quality goods and services sourced from the USA.

Global Impact

Outside North America, the implications could also be significant for procurement professionals around the world. President Obama has been pushing hard to ratify the world’s largest ever free trade agreement – the Transpacific Partnership (TPP).

This opens procurement markets, and removes tariffs, between 12 countries, including Australia, Japan and Vietnam. Trump has confirmed he will cancel this deal on his first day in office. This will deny public procurement across all participating countries the opportunity to increase procurement competitiveness and reduce sourcing costs. It’s also likely to decrease the choice of the goods and services available for purchase.

The same is true with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The trading impact of TTIP, between the USA and European Union, would have been huge. Whilst talks reached an impasse in 2016 when negotiating procurement market access, Trump is likely to be the final nail in the coffin.

TTIP again would have been a boon to procurement teams in all countries, with increases in competition and decreases in price for all countries. This would have provided European contracting authorities with tariff-free access to high-quality American goods and services and vice versa.

Despite the threats of uncontrolled climate change and protectionism, the impacts of a Trump presidency are really yet to be known. Yes, Trump may have secured his “contract” with the American voter. But the contract will be re-tendered in under four years. The outcome of that really is unknown.

Can Procurement Lead the Fight Against Protectionism?

Protectionism will never produce a win-win situation. And it can be a huge wall for procurement to work around.

protectionism

Few procurement professionals view their role through the lenses of either protectionism or free trade. But the protectionism-free trade dimension is a crucial topic for procurement, so it is certainly worth thinking about the impacts on procurement the world over.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines protectionism as, “the theory or practice of shielding a country’s domestic industries from foreign competition.” Further, protectionism is a mind set as much as formal policy; it is the intentional or inadvertent preference for domestic industries over foreign industries.

Free trade meanwhile is “international trade left to its natural course without tariffs, quotas or other restrictions”.

The translation into procurement is fairly simple. Protectionism is limiting access to domestic procurement markets to foreign suppliers, and the preference for awarding public contracts to domestic rather than foreign suppliers. Free trade is the absence of this.

Protectionism is largely, or partly, illegal between numerous countries with free trade agreements (FTAs), such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or are part of a trade bloc such as the European Union. But protectionism includes more subtle biases.

Ideas around boosting the local economy, creating local jobs and protecting the local environment are all protectionist when preferred over equal boosts to an economy, job creation, or the environment elsewhere.

Protectionism – A Zero Sum Game

The first strand of this article is that protectionism harms economies, jobs and prosperity, locally and globally, for two reasons.

Firstly, it is intuitive to think that sourcing goods and services locally has positive impacts, creating jobs and economic growth in the local area. But this is a zero sum game.

Protectionism is normally reciprocated. If one country has policy preference for domestic businesses, then other countries respond in the same way, offsetting the benefit. Protectionism may allow Country A to create more local jobs by awarding contracts to domestic businesses. However, when Country B does the same, export jobs in Country A are lost.

No more jobs are created and no additional economic growth is produced by procuring from domestic suppliers. Domestic industries get some short term benefit and exporters lose out.

Should We Really Favour Our Own Country?

Protectionists argue that public procurement in their own country should favour domestic businesses. In the UK, the contract for a large rail project in London was awarded to Germany’s Siemens, ahead of UK-based Bombardier. Cue outrage at job losses in the UK factory because the government awarded to a foreign business.

Unless protectionists believe they deserve double standards, this logic dictates that Bombardier should not have won contracts with Trenitalia, Italy’s main train operator. Nor should British architects have been awarded the contract to build the dome for the German Reichstag.

These created British jobs from German and Italian taxpayers. Hundreds of thousands of British jobs rely on British businesses winning public contracts outside the UK through non-discriminatory competition.

In the USA, incoming president Trump has riled against other countries “stealing” American jobs. However, he does not seem to oppose German, Japanese and Korean car manufacturers employing hundreds of thousands of workers in American factories. But surely the British and American governments’ obligations are to their own workers and businesses?

Maybe so. A country having an obligation to help domestic businesses and workers more than the rest of the world is understandable, but there is not actually any gain. Protectionism also makes British and American citizens and workers worse off.

Reducing Choice & Raising Costs

This leads onto the second reason. Protectionism gives citizens fewer choices of what they can buy and increases their living costs. The belief that protectionism helps local communities at all is flawed.

Free trade allows consumers to have the best goods, regardless of location. In the developed world, the UK is bad at growing bananas and the USA makes expensive toys, so free trade enriches citizens by allowing better bananas and cheaper toys.

Free trade allows businesses and citizens in the developing world to access the best technology and equipment that is not or cannot be effectively produced locally. In essence, protectionism limits the goods that citizens can buy, to everyone’s loss.

Hamstrung by Protectionism?

This has the exact same impact on procurement and the second strand of this article is that the procurement industry is hamstrung by protectionism. Protectionism harms both the procuring entity and ultimately the users of public services.

If a hospital needs new radiotherapy machines, it should procure the machines with the best combination of quality and price. In a world of 7 billion people, the best radiotherapy machines will probably not be made locally, and maybe not domestically.

Basing buying decisions on nationality rather than value for money and effectiveness of the radiotherapy machines hurts cancer patients and increases costs for taxpayers. As protectionism is reciprocated, it decreases consumer choices and increases import costs. This is without even a net benefit for domestic industries or workers.

This conclusion that should therefore be reached is that every protectionist move has pros and cons, but the pros are directly and equally offset by counter-moves, leaving only the cons intact and everyone worse off. Hardly a desirable outcome.

So in the context of the Brexit vote, Trump’s victory and the stagnation in global trade, the case needs to be made now more than ever that protectionism on net harms prosperity. Procurement functions have a large role and responsibility to their organisations, countries and the world to avoid it.