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Living Beyond Borders Articles

The pandemic inflicted a huge shock on supply chains, but there is another force at work remapping global trade flows too: the deepening ideological divide between the US and China, framed in Washington as a broader competition between democracies and autocracies.

The so-called “de-coupling” between the world’s two largest economies began during the presidency of Donald Trump, who slapped tariffs on China in a largely unsuccessful attempt to address the real harms that offshoring has done to some US workers.

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Where are all the truck drivers?

The global truck driver shortage has been disrupting already-out-of-whack supply chains, particularly in the US, the European Union, and Britain – further complicating their post-pandemic economic recoveries. Last year, the American Truckers Association said it was around 80,000 drivers short, while in Europe, a deficit of 40,000 truckers has contributed to long waits and empty shelves. What’s going on? The pandemic has upended the way we work. Trucking is an arduous and ungratifying gig: Drivers often spend days or weeks far away from home, and they don’t get paid for hours spent waiting for goods to be loaded and unloaded. The road can be grueling, the compensation is underwhelming, and the benefits are often … nonexistent. In the US, trucking salaries have plunged in recent decades. Median wages for truck drivers in 1980 were about $110,000 annually (adjusted for inflation); in 2020, they were just $47,130. Unsurprisingly, many truckers are opting for jobs with better conditions and pay, so trucking firms in Europe and the US are struggling to lure drivers back to work and recruit new staff. It’s particularly grim in the UK, where supply side frictions have been exacerbated by Brexit. In the US, meanwhile, companies like Walmart are fighting back by offering massive salary hikes to attract truck drivers. Will it get the wheels turning?

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The pandemic sent global supply chains into a tizzy. Then, just as economies were embarking on their post-COVID economic recoveries, Russia invaded Ukraine, upending the global grain trade and sending supply chains spiraling further. Supply chain frictions have a lot of unintended consequences: Brexit-related supply chain issues made it hard for some Brits to get their hands on a pint of beer, while China’s punitive zero-COVID policy drove the auto industry – among others – into a full-blown crisis. We take a look at the Global Supply Chain Index from 2000-2022 along with key global economic milestones.

The war in Ukraine is just the latest crisis to befall global supply chains in recent years, and it appears likely to get worse before it finally eases. It’s not just about interrupted flows, shortages, and higher prices for food and fuel. According to a report published in May 2022 by Dun & Bradstreet, a total of at least 615,000 businesses operating globally depend on supplies from either Russia or Ukraine. About 90% of those firms are based in the United States, but supply chains in Europe, China, Canada, Australia, and Brazil are heavily impacted. According to the report, a total of 25 countries have a high dependency on Russia and Ukraine for a variety of commodities.

Five months into the war, it’s clear that the likeliest outcome of the current fighting will be a long-term stalemate. Russia doesn’t appear militarily strong enough to take and hold all of Ukraine, and Ukraine doesn’t appear strong enough to drive Russian troops completely off Ukrainian land. As a result, those who depend on resources and production inputs from Russia and Ukraine now know they’ll likely need to invest in new suppliers of hundreds of different commodities and products – from sunflower seeds to turbojets – to build better resilience into their supply chains, rather than simply waiting for the fighting to end.

2 million: As the war in Ukraine rages on, the African continent is facing a shortfall of around 2 million metric tons of fertilizer that’s causing an unprecedented loss in food production throughout the continent. A Senegalese official warned at a recent G20 meeting that starvation could kill more Africans than COVID-19.

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