Andel and Handling: Candidates Dance around Supply Chain

MH&L was hoping to have some strong statements on supply chain policy from the Obama and Romney camps by the time I was ready to write this editorial. Still waiting.

Neither presidential candidate has posted his supply chain policy on their website. That may be because addressing the supply chain would mean having to address transportation infrastructure—meaning roads and bridges—meaning funding—meaning taxes. Politicians try to avoid straight talk on taxes at election time the way you and I try to avoid talking politics at dinner time. Nevertheless, our editorial director Dave Blanchard found ways to put supply chain in a Washington context in his report this month.

Anticipating that the candidates might be reticent to weigh in on policies affecting your supply chain, we thought we’d come directly to you for your views. MH&L’s audience was far more opinionated on these issues, judging from their answers to a survey we e-blasted to them last month.

From the more than 450 responses, we learned that most of our readers want supply chain security left to the private sector. That’s how 53% of respondents replied when asked “What should the winning presidential candidate’s administration do to encourage greater supply chain security in the face of natural and man-made disasters?” But another 35% wouldn’t mind government incentives to help them invest in technology to make them more secure.

One person put supply chain security in terms of global trade: “Encourage less dependence on foreign countries in our manufacturing sectors.” Another said “Encourage American companies to use American raw materials and American labor and you'll eliminate most of the supply chain problems.”

Supply chain problems are personal in this election. When so many jobs went away after the economic meltdown of 2008, citizen entrepreneurs with big ideas tried to create their own opportunities. One of them showed up for a Romney campaign stop in Dayton, Ohio, last month. According to a Plain Dealer report, she tearfully described for the candidate her attempts to get a product she invented made here in the U.S. She couldn’t afford U.S. manufacturers, she said, so she had to extend her search to China. Romney promised he would offer tax breaks that would allow U.S. manufacturers to operate at lower costs and level the playing field they’re on with China.

But other U.S. manufacturers say tax breaks won’t be enough as long as China can use the supply chain to get around trade laws. The Coalition to Enforce Anti-dumping and Countervailing Duty Orders, which represents such companies, charges that the Departments of Commerce and Customs are too lax in enforcing trade laws, and that China has been mislabeling its goods or shipping them through third countries such as Vietnam to avoid paying penalties. While the Obama Administration has lodged complaints about such practices with the World Trade Organization, bills to improve enforcement of anti-dumping laws have been stalled in congressional committees.

Nevertheless, the Obama Administration says it is committed to working with the international community of nations to strengthen the security of global supply chains in the face of disasters like the tsunami that crippled Japan and its trading partners a couple years ago. In a White House blog post earlier this year, Christa Brzozowski, director for supply chain security at the National Security Council, commented on the Administration’s “National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.”

“At a time when budgets are constrained, we will seek to develop smarter solutions and new efficiencies by enhancing our information sharing procedures and capabilities, synchronizing standards and procedures, prioritizing and aligning activities according to risk management principles, and leveraging the expertise and resources of industry and foreign partners in pursuit of our shared interests," she wrote.

That sounds fine, but until unfair trade practices and the crumbling U.S. transportation infrastructure are addressed by whoever is elected as our chief executive next month, those words will remain empty rhetoric for many of our readers. And while the candidates may be shy about identifying such priorities, our readers know what needs to be done. In one of our survey questions, we noted that as part of the recently passed transportation bill, states are to be given incentives to partner with the private sector to finance and operate transportation infrastructure projects. Seventy-eight percent indicated roads and bridges were the top priorities, followed by rail (12%) and ports (5%). Let’s see if the candidates walk that talk before the election or just continue their dance.

Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.

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