May 17, 2020

U.S. free trade agreement sparks shipping debate

Supply Chain Digital
U.S. Free Trade Agreement
Korea Free
Freddie Pierce
2 min
Shippers will benefit from the U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea, but manufacturing could suffer
Huge news came out of the international shipping market today, as it was announced that the U.S. Congress approved free-trade agreements with South Kor...

Huge news came out of the international shipping market today, as it was announced that the U.S. Congress approved free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The agreement is expected to be a huge boon for exporters and logistics companies.

Global supply chain management companies like FedEx and UPS, who are expected to see an increase on sales all over the world stemming from the free-trade agreement. While the long-term benefits of the agreement are positive, some people doubt the short-term benefits, namely unemployment targets.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce expects 250,000 new jobs to be created, and 380,000 more saved in the United States. About 13.5 million people are currently unemployed in the U.S.

“It’s not a huge deal,” economist Donald Ratajczak told CommercialAppeal.com. “It’s much smaller than (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was. But the South Korea relations in particular are the biggest of the three and important to FedEx.”

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South Korea is the largest economy among the three nations involved, and had previously signed a similar deal with the European Union. The U.S. agreement would reduce taxes on both imports and exports from South Korea to keep the U.S. in position to compete with the European market.

Those opposed to the deal worry about the effects local manufacturers will suffer.

“In the last 10 years alone we have lost 50,000 factories, and it is harder and harder to buy products manufactured in the United States,” I-Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders said.

“These new trade agreements are nothing more than a continuation of a failed trade policy and should be rejected. Our demand must be that corporations reinvest in this country, create jobs here and not in China or other low-wage countries.”

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Jun 19, 2021

Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried

Logistics
SCALA
supplychain
Brexit
Rob Wright, Executive Director...
4 min
Logistics professionals need urgent solutions to a shortage in drivers caused by a perfect storm of Brexit, COVID-19 and compounding economic factors

While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks. 

A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so. 

What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.

"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"


That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.

But where has this skills shortage stemmed from? 

Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.

COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.

It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing. 

So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done? 

Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change. 

Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.

Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line. 

On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains. 

Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months. 
 

Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector

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