Picture: 123RF/lightwise
Picture: 123RF/lightwise

Shanghai — As the US-China trade war drags into its 16th month and continues to disrupt supply chains, more than 25% of multinational firms have not made contingency plans, a survey from a subsidiary of courier giant DHL showed.

The survey by DHL Resilience360, a supply chain risk management software platform under Deutsche Post’s courier unit, included 267 anonymous responses from supply chain executives across industries including health care, automotive and consumer.

More than half of respondents were from companies with annual revenue of more than 1-billion yuan ($142m) and most were from the US and EU, the survey showed.

Of respondents, 48% from the engineering and manufacturing industry and 40% from the automotive mobility sector reported that they had no contingency plans at all, even though both fields have been heavily targeted by both countries in the trade war.

“We’re now dealing with such a new frontier that most supply chain professionals have not encountered this before and it’s so new that I think a lot of people are struggling to even understand what they can do to deal with it,” said Shehrina Kamal, product director for risk monitoring at DHL Resilience360.

Of those that had decided against relocating or shifting production out of China, some said they were unaffected by the trade war. However, 43% said long-established connections with Chinese factories and suppliers as well as cost and time were among reasons for staying put. Just 8% of respondents said they expected tariffs to eventually be removed.

Of the 12% of respondents that have moved manufacturing out of China, some said they faced headaches such as a lack of skilled labour, heavy port congestion and maintaining supplier quality, the survey showed. India and Vietnam were among the most popular alternative locations.

The US and China have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods since July 2018 as trade friction between the world’s two biggest economies worsened despite several rounds of negotiation. Industries that have been hit so far include automotive, retail and technology.

A “phase one” deal that would cool trade tension and roll back some of the tariffs had been expected in November but has yet to be agreed.

The disruption has led other Asian countries to compete for investment from companies moving supply chains to escape higher tariffs, with governments offering tax breaks, promising to slash red tape and sending trade missions.

Reuters