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Interesting times.

By Steve Geary | 09/04/2017 | 3:34 PM

In March I wrote, “Relationships around the world are shifting, which means that the logistician’s world is becoming more uncertain.  Some people make money from uncertainty, but in our world we earn profits by making uncertainty go away.”

Well, things aren’t getting any better.  It's our job to make the supply chain work, to make things move, and it sure looks like the time has arrived to have the contingency plans ready.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2016 statistics, the Top 3 trading partners of the United States are China, Canada and Mexico.  A few slots below, at Number 7, is South Korea.  The United States is involved in difficult trade discussions with all of them, and things are more than a bit unsettled.

And while trade with Japan is no longer top of mind in our collective consciousness, as it was thirty years ago, they still rank Number 4 on our list of trading partners.  With ICBM’s flying overhead launched by North Korea things feel a little bit more uncertain in Japan these days.

Let’s lump the individual European Union countries together, and we can add Top 10 trading partners the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to the list.  There is more than a little uncertainty over just where Europe is headed as they thrash through Brexit.

The only country on the Top 10 trading partner list we haven’t talked about is Hong Kong.  As each day passes it is harder and harder to think of Hong Kong as somehow distinct from China, so I’m going to lump Hong Kong into the a bucket of radioactive uncertainty that includes Hong Kong, China, Japan, and South Korea.  A little round guy with a funny haircut named Kim Jong-un is putting them the notional shadow of a mushroom cloud and that's not good for trade.

This Top 10 look should be a disturbing perspective for any logistician.  If you are reading this it is a pretty fair bet that you, like me, are a logistician.  It’s our job to remove uncertainty, promote stability, and in general make things flow smoothly, but the world is not cooperating.  My advice is that it is time to start hedging your bets.  If you export heavily, start looking for new markets, hopefully domestic.  If you import heavily, start looking for domestic sources.  And start dual sourcing everything. 

As I said in the March article, “We can deal with uncertainty, but are we descending into chaos or simply witnessing a global realignment?  Either way, it’s going to be interesting.”  We may have passed simply interesting a few stops back.  “May you live in interesting times” is a proverbial Chinese curse.  Logisticians are now living through some very interesting times – getting more interesting by the day - and it surely feels like a curse.

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About Steve Geary

Steve Geary

Steve Geary is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Tennessee's College of Business Administration, and is on the faculty at The Gordon Institute at Tufts University, where he teaches supply chain management. He is the President of the Supply Chain Visions family of companies, and Chief Operating Officer at ROSE Solutions, consultancies that work across the government sector. Steve is a contributing editor at DC Velocity, and editor-at-large for CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. He is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Science and Engineering, and Who's Who in Executives and Professionals. In November of 2007, Steve was recognized for "Selfless Service to Our Nation and the People of Iraq" by the Deputy Secretary of Defense.


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