By Chris Adams
In an online workshop for the National Press Foundation, two experts on the U.S.-China trade wars said the new coronavirus has already upended trade patterns.
Myron Brilliant and Kurt Tong explained how the virus affects supply chains from Beijing to Washington and ports and communities in between.
As commerce shuts down in locales around the globe, supply chains will crumble, leaving manufacturers empty handed even if they have workers to assemble their goods. The U.S.-China trade war will take a back seat to overarching concerns about the global economy.
“This is not just a U.S. problem or a European problem or a China problem. This is a shared challenge, and we need to have policies that reflect that shared challenge,” said Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (Videos: Brilliant discusses the impact of coronavirus on trade and the Chinese economy.)
Brilliant (bio, Twitter) said that businesses are spending their time thinking about the balance between helping employees stay healthy and maintaining at least some business activity. (Click here for the Chamber’s resources on coronavirus.)
Brilliant spoke on March 16, 2020, as the U.S. began its lockdown measures – but well after China had done the same. By then, Chinese economic activity had fallen through the floor: first quarter Chinese gross domestic product estimates had plummeted, and manufacturing purchasing readings were below those of the Great Recession.
Tong (bio) previously was U.S. consul general for Hong Kong and Macau and is now a partner at the Asia Group, based in Washington. He had a front-row seat as the U.S. and China ramped up their trade and tariff war three years ago, and he’s well-versed in the dynamics of the global supply chain.
In the age of coronavirus, Tong said three sometimes-competing trends are at play: decoupling, or the increasing distance between the U.S. and Chinese economy; globalization, which dominated in recent decades as companies built supply chains irrespective of national borders; and re-globalization, which will happen after the coronavirus crisis wanes. (Video: Tong details the three trends.)
“The defining characteristic of this year is deglobalization,” Tong said. “Human beings because of the virus are not associating with each other as much. … The re-globalization process will happen starting in Asia and spreading outward, just as the virus did.”
Think about the car industry, Tong said.
“In order to complete a vehicle, you’ve got to have all the parts,” he said. “If you don’t have that last part you can’t ship it. … That is something we are seeing already.” (Video: Tong discusses the impact on automotive supply chains.)