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In terms of labour costs, cost to company per employee is increasing across China due to uneven supply, high demand, inflationary pressure, organised labour demands, and growing social spending requirements. But Western China still offers large pockets of very reasonable wages for skilled and semi-skilled labour, and foreign and local manufacturers in China are increasingly taking advantage of this. While it is true that wages are rising quickly in coastal regions, labour productivity gains due to investment and technical upgrades, especially in the machinery industry, have kept pace with the rise in labour costs (see chart above, left).
Chinese exporters of manufactured goods are also taking advantage of the massive local market. The demand for new plants, equipment, infrastructure – often one third to half of world demand – has created significant economies of scale and of scope for most of China's manufacturing sub-industries. The competitiveness and innovation in the construction machinery sector, for example, have primarily been driven by the country’s infrastructure build-up over the past 15-20 years. The same effect has benefited the producers of steel commodities and structural steel, construction materials, trucks, barges, electrical equipment, power generation equipment, etc. The infrastructure build-up and procurement demand, initially fuelled by foreign-invested companies and with some assistance from government procurement policies, government-approved projects, and the availability and low cost of land and capital, have generated a highly competitive and increasingly sophisticated plethora of local producers that are now dominating the Chinese market and aiming for global expansion.
The size and growth of China’s manufactured goods market is in effect supporting a self-sustaining cycle of cut-throat competition that features innovation, capacity expansion and upgrading, and ‘learning by doing’. Suppliers and clusters of suppliers compete with each other but an engineering talent pool and the related innovation usually travels freely and contributes to China’s overall manufacturing competitiveness. They take advantage of the more than 600,000 students who graduate with engineering degrees every year, excellent transport infrastructure, especially in coastal regions, and generally supportive government policies favouring Chinese high value added manufacturing. As industries across China consolidate and manufacturers grow and become more assertive in their quest for value-added production and profitability at home and abroad, firms sourcing from China must address the following question: How can we protect and consolidate our savings in sourcing capital goods from China through the establishment of a China procurement operation? At the same time, how can we move to the next level and take full advantage of an increasingly sophisticated manufacturing base?
The structural changes in China’s competitiveness across the sourcing spectrum will require procurement managers to shift some of their commodity spending from China to other LCCs, while increasing their orders of machinery, complex parts and high-value added consumables in China. In our view, the key to taking full advantage of a broader spectrum of cost and feature innovation present in the Chinese market is to move from a customer-supplier model of price-based sourcing with strictly dictated specifications and standards to a partnership-based approach where the supplier takes an active part in the overall project and in specifications design. This would entail a structured and patient exchange of ideas, a deeper understanding of Chinese manufacturing practices and standards, and above all, an open mind from both the customer and the supplier. Commercial practices would also require modifications. Contract management with Chinese suppliers generally relies less on contract enforcement and more on relationship management, so many of the standard contractual clauses traditionally used by international procurement teams are either not applicable or not enforceable in China, and thus create unnecessary burdens on suppliers and ultimately increase the total costs of the contract.
Ultimately, a sophisticated foreign buyer of Chinese capital equipment will probably need to adopt a number of Chinese standards, practices and approaches – all without compromising quality, environmental and labour protection standards, or good governance.
First, with rising costs elsewhere in the supply chain, managers are increasingly turning to automated procurement systems over manpower. Most active in the implementation of procurement software are mid-sized businesses, those with revenues between USD 100 and 750 million, which are turning to cloud software. This unique form of data management operates without being grounded to a server but instead on an extended network of users.
Cloud and other types of software are allowing procurement specialists to network outside of their own organisations, another trend noted in the Software Advice report. Greater connectivity within the industry has increased the viability of reverse auctions, where suppliers can collaborate for heightened purchasing power.
The main advantage of an upgraded procurement system is enhanced information flows. For example, through order history tracking and via the data obtained from an expanded network, down times in purchasing can be identified, at which point prices are cheaper. Furthermore, greater information swaps promote collaboration between a business' procurement and finance divisions, improving the budgeting process. Two applications cited in the report for this purpose are purchase-to-pay and supplier performance management applications.
The article also states a trend toward automation, not just for the purchasing cycle, but for the endorsement of contracts--a move that could further expedite the procurement process. However, the arrangement of this type of system seems a long way off with most Chinese suppliers.
For more details about these trends and others, see the full report . here.
There are many similarities between China and India in today's global-economic climate. Both have over one billion citizens, both have experienced resilient growth in output, and both have greatly expanded their roles in international trade. The relatively inexpensive yet well educated workforces of these two countries have made them key prospects for the sourcing of manufactured goods. Yet differences remain in their supplier and logistical capabilities which must be taken into account by the sourcing professional.
Both India and China are capable of world class manufacturing processes. A study performed by the London School of Economics on the supply chains of the two countries’ automotive industries found that two-thirds of their domestic suppliers were able to provide inputs with defect rates of less than 100 parts per million – the typical threshold for suppliers in the US, Europe, and Japan. It was observed that both Chinese and Indian auto manufacturers domestically outsourced component production at similarly high rates, suggesting an adequate availability of competent local suppliers. Whereas the study found higher productivity levels in India, in terms of capital intensity, delivery frequency and stock-turn ratios, China had the edge. In a more recent, broader assessment across multiple industries, Deloitte found that the average number of days an item sits in inventory favored China at 24.2 compared to India’s 32.5.
Beyond the factory floor, connecting products to end users poses different challenges in China and in India. Within India there is a heavy reliance on roads. Their network is the second largest in the world, behind the US, at over three million kilometres. However, only around half of these roads are paved, and their width is generally too narrow to allow the passage of anything beyond smaller, two-axel trucks. Road transit is further slowed by a fragmented Indian trucking industry and by state border checkpoints. China, in contrast, has a far less extensive network of roads. Out of its million-plus kilometre road network, only around 300,000 kilometres are paved. But what China lacks in actual length, it makes up for by having newer, more passable roads. It has five times the number of multiple lane highways than India.
China also has more transport options available to its supply chains in the form of rail, air, and waterways. Over 78,000 kilometres of terrain are connected by rail in China compared with 63,000 in India. Goods can be flown in and out of China by way of 500 airports whereas there are only 334 locations to take to the sky in India. Thanks to geographical endowments, China also has more navigable waterways. Besides some of the world’s most active ports, commerce in China moves on 110,000 kilometres of inland aqueous passageways. This is more advantageous than India’s 16,000 kilometres of waterways, particularly in the movement of bulk commodities.
These transportation differences are partially reflected in the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Rankings. China is rated the highest of all BRIIC (Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and China) countries at 27th in the world. Its comparatively higher scores in customs clearance, infrastructure adequacy, logistics, timeliness and tracking ability place it above India, ranked 47th globally. Some of the largest discrepancies between the two countries are shown in survey data collected by the World Bank. Responders reported much higher frequencies of compulsory warehousing/transloading and involuntary payment solicitation in India, while in China greater expenses were incurred in the form of agent fees.
The infrastructure and logistical differences may explain why India is a more common site for the outsourcing of services, particularly IT services, which do not require a physical good to be brought to market. However, India should not be entirely discredited as a sourcing destination for manufactured goods. Both it and China have allocated over 10% of their GDPs toward infrastructure development which will enhance their future logistical abilities in bringing their products to the world’s consumers. The greatest similarity between China and India: neither can be ignored by the sourcing professional.
|Clearance time with physical inspection (days)||3.38||3.45||5.47||5.12||4.62|
|Clearance time, no physical inspection (days)||1.70||1.92||1.67||2.14||2.57|
|Percent of imports physically inspected||8.59||13.63||10.54||11.08||44.20|
|Percent of imports inspected multiple times||2.46||6.20||2.04||2.56||10.05|
|Export lead time from shipper to port (median)||2.77||2.34||2.80||2.12||3.98|
|Import lead time from port to cosignee (median)||2.56||5.31||3.88||5.35||2.88|
|Number of export agencies||4.06||3.43||3.47||2.50||5.83|
|Number of import agencies||4.20||3.71||4.21||3.67||5.17|
|40 ft container export charge (USD)||418.90||660.30||1,614.05||378.93||1,310.37|
|40 ft container import charge (USD)||376.37||1,266.94||1,570.42||1,023.84||1,144.71|
Besides a discussion on the macro economy, the two main topics from the forum were:
- Supply chain management in the environment of economic recession; and
- Supply chain management contributions to company value
Since the value enhancing role of supply chain management is a common topic discussed at a majority of procurement forums, I was more interested in the first topic. While exchanging ideas about supply management under economic recession with other purchasing managers, I received many useful tips—including those from the speakers. One speaker was Mr. Dai Dingyi, Vice Chairman of CFLP, who introduced the status and trends of purchasing and supply management in
Mr. Johnson Xiao, Global Sourcing Director of TRW Automotive Inc, was another speaker. Mr. Xiao shared his personal experiences in service sourcing. Attendees also learned a lot from Mr. Zhang Jiamin, Director of Li & Fung Group, who gave an insightful speech on how
These speeches were very insightful about the current state of supply chain management in
Although the manufacturing technology for some of the products was not on the international level, the quality of most products exceeded my clients’ expectations. From manufacturing machinery, i.e. widely-used CNCs, to every step of the manufacturing process, casting, machining, welding, surface treatment and packaging - all of these met my clients’ criteria for qualified suppliers. The previous biggest problem affecting my clients' China sourcing strategy, QUALITY, seems now to have been effectively solved. Chinese suppliers' price and delivery, moreover, is usually comparatively better than competitors from other countries.
So what else is the problem then? The biggest problem arose afterwards. Most of the suppliers we visited did not have any agencies in any of my clients' countries, which, incidentally, made it easy to talk to the supplier directly and get lower prices. But for those products frequently requiring maintenance, it is simply not possible to rely only on the suppliers.
Let’s take the procurement of pumps for mining industries as an example. The pumps are usually used in tough (i.e. high pressure and corrosive) conditions. The lifespan of the key parts will be short, sometimes 20 days to 1 month. The buyer can save 1/3 of the total purchase value by sourcing pumps from China. But for maintenance, the buyer will have to keep enough stock for the key parts. If there is not enough stock and the buyer has to order parts from the Chinese supplier, it requires lead time of at least 1 month, plus shipping time. To set up a solid agency overseas is a large investment for many Chinese suppliers, so after-sales service is not an obstacle that can easily be overcome. Yet as long as they are fully aware of the problem, with thorough communication, Chinese suppliers and overseas buyers can come up with solutions, such as
- Sourcing some general-use parts (i.e. seal parts) locally with the assistance of other Chinese suppliers
- Negotiating with Chinese suppliers to have a ‘green channel’ to shorten lead times
- Setting up a stock level system with supply chain management knowledge
As another example of problematic after-sales service, I can relate the following example. A South African client recently bought an engineering machine from a Chinese producer. The drive, which carried an international well-known brand produced in Germany, turned out to be faulty. The German brand, however, has an agency in South Africa, and so the client was expecting the agency would easily be able to solve the problem. Yet the client was told that it could take 3 months to get a new drive and that this was the normal lead time. The client then came back to the Chinese supplier directly and finally got a new one within 15 days.
From this perspective, the fact that Chinese companies do not have agencies overseas is not reason enough to dismiss their after-sales service completely. Indeed, for international companies who have agencies anywhere else, rigid systems and other factors can sometimes form stumbling blocks of their own. Sourcing managers will still need to invest a lot of time to conduct thorough research before they can decide where to source most profitably.
The recently released Supply Chain Intelligence Report (SCIR) is an international, independent study on supply chain management and logistics practices in emerging economies, conducted in South Africa. The aim of the research is to provide insight into many forces that are driving change in supply chain management and to demonstrate how the most successful companies are dealing with these new and evolving challenges. Conducted annually, the SCIR facilitates progress and development in supply chain and logistics practices through the sharing of information and knowledge, without compromising confidential or strategic information.
The basic premise of the report is that planning and forecasting are undoubtedly the only big challenges to efficient supply chain management – as further illustrated by several international studies in recent years. Yet as we all clearly realize, the world is changing, and it is changing at a far faster rate than before – one of the primary drivers of this rapid change is information, the freely available and accessible information that the average person has access to.
What the SCIR 2009 proposes is that the only really effective way of addressing the planning and forecasting challenge is to improve visibility (both for demand and supply) in a supply chain, while simultaneously increasing the supply chain’s reactivity. If this is achieved, one will be able to plan and forecast and thus have an effective and efficient supply chain.
Visibility is the capability of easily observing, of being able to provide a clear view in respect of both supply & demand and is primarily determined by two drivers: technology and collaboration. By increasing forward and backward visibility along the supply chain, companies will have a greater lead time to adjust their production schedules and orders. Through the efficient use of technology, one is able to have greater access to information (in real time) and thus greater visibility.
Reactivity on the other hand is the ability to readily respond to a change, in this case a change in demand, with supply chain reactivity being best improved through the appropriate use of in-sourcing, outsourcing and virtual resourcing, as well as through integrative practice techniques. The report elaborates on the fact that the essential components of reactivity are ‘flexibility with respect to the ability to deploy supply chain assets, and the ability to assemble a virtual best of breed supply chain team that can redesign, implement and operate what will need to be almost an organic supply chain - one that changes, learns and evolves continuously.’
The report further goes on to expound the hypothesis that planning and forecasting are inseparable parts of what drives competitive advantage. In fact, planning and forecasting really drive efficiency – defined as cost reduction and precise execution – which is also matched by effectiveness – defined as doing the right thing at the right time. Effectiveness in itself is supported/driven by market sensitivity; which is an ability to acutely read and/or understand the market and be able to detect and anticipate events before they actually occur. Once all these are in place, understood and properly managed/executed, then a company has created a competitive advantage and can be defined as a ‘winning company.’
You can get a free copy of the main research report if you participate in the survey, which will take you about 10 minutes to complete, on the official SCIR 2009 website.
- Characteristics of the goods
- Shipping methods (by sea or air, by bulk or by container)
- Shipping period
- Policy in force at the destination, such as regulations on imported wood
- Storage needs
- After Sales and Warranty
- Quotation Deadlines and Validity Period
- Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA)
- Contact Details
In this series we have talked about a lot of elements which together make a good enquiry. These elements can reduce risk, increase sellers' and therefore buyers' efficiency, and of course help in getting the quotation you want.
We welcome any feedback should there be further questions or suggestions.
Yet the rise in China's exports has also been characterized by an important shift in its export structure. Where twenty years ago China was primarily an exporter of textiles, textile articles and apparel, today China is the world's largest exporter of electronics and machinery-related products, which make up 43% of China's total exports. China is rapidly moving up the technology ladder and is therefore becoming more competitive in exports of high-value capital goods - industries where traditionally Western countries such as Japan, Germany and the US have held the competitive advantage. But to what extent is China really able to compete with these countries today?
To better analyze this competitive landscape, we can make us of the industry classification of the OECD in its STAN Bilateral Trade Database, edition 2006, to compare Chinese and US high technology exports during the past few years.
According to the chart above, if we assume that the US' share of high-technology exports will continue the trend it has followed in the past 5 years, China's high-technology exports have already surpassed those of the US. So what does this mean? Is China the new high-technology power? Are there grounds for concern about China's threat to the competitiveness of Western industries?
I believe if these questions were posed to Laozi, the father of the yin yang concept, his answer would not be yes or no, and neither black or white, but rather a combination of both.
Yin: A sourcing opportunity rather than a threat
According to OECD sources,
China's export performance, therefore, is directly linked to its specialization in assembly operations and the high value-added inputs imported from Western economies. This has facilitated a rapid diversification of its manufactured exports, from low-end manufactures to high-technology products.some 55% of China's total exports are attributed to production and assembly-related activities, and 58% of these are driven by foreign enterprises, of which 38% are entirely foreign-owned. In fact, among the top 10 high-technology companies by revenue, not one of them is Chinese.
Yang: A sourcing opportunity but a future threat
Although Chinese high-tech ability is still subsidized by foreign technology transfers and government support, Chinese companies are developing competitive advantages in several areas of high-value industrial and equipment manufacturing. Good examples are Huawei (a telecommunications equipment maker based in Shenzhen), whose equipment and services were considered good enough to beat Siemens in a German tender; Zhenhua Port Machinery, which had a full two-thirds of global port crane orders in 2006; and Tian Di Science & Technology, the national leader in the design and manufacturing of coal mining equipment.
To effectively make use of China's cost advantages as a high-technology assembly center, foreign companies will have to carefully consider to what extent and with which strategic framework technology transfers are implemented and imported inputs are assembled in China. At the same time, and considering China's evolving high-technology exports, trying to avoid China as a high-technology sourcing destination will likely result in an unfeasible cost structure and a loss of competitiveness. Successfully dealing with China's sourcing challenges and particularities will finally determine whether China is a threat or an opportunity.
The current global financial crisis is reshaping the world's economies at various levels and it seems that no country in the world will be immune from the ripple effects. The lack of liquidity in global financial markets, combined with the drop in purchasing power is leading to a decrease in profits that are forcing many companies to re-evaluate and completely restructure their procurement strategies. In essence, the only way to keep profit margins at a healthy level - while at the same time remaining competitive in global markets - will be cutting costs and/or increasing revenues. It is within this space that new opportunities lie to source from or manufacture in China.
The potential benefits of sourcing from China are now more than ever becoming powerful, even necessary drivers for some companies to overcome the present difficulties. If approached correctly and strategically, China can be a solution that will not only help stabilize the present turbulence, but also establish a foundation for a more sustainable and profitable outcome by engaging the main components of the profit equation.
Some of the potential benefits of sourcing from China are:
- Direct cost savings - Companies can obtain direct cost savings due to China's lower cost base, specifically in the areas of utility costs, raw materials and labor. This has enabled Chinese companies to produce high-value products while retaining competitive pricing.
- Access to a large potential market - Impressive economic growth throughout the years has given rise to a new Chinese middle class with increasing purchasing power. This factor, combined with the Chinese saving culture and low dependency on credit, has minimized the effect of the global financial crisis in China. Companies can take advantage of this and see China not only as a cost saving solution but also as a new source of revenue.
- Competitive strategy - Many companies will accept that China is a viable solution in the current financial crisis, so quickly engaging the best Chinese suppliers before the competition reaches them will be instrumental to successful procurement strategies.
All of these benefits have been mentioned before, but for many companies the global financial crisis has transformed the benefits of sourcing from China into essential requirements for remaining competitive or even solvent in the global market.
Labor costs are the lowest in countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, for instance, yet the lack of existing infrastructure or an industrial base are likely going to increase the cost of business operations. On the other side of the spectrum, developed countries such as the US or Germany excel in modern transportation networks, but labor costs are extremely expensive and will predominate in an unfeasible cost structure.
In order to identify the best destination for a particular sourcing operation, one should firstly determine the critical performance indicators that may differ from country to country, and secondly compare those indicators between the selected potential sourcing countries. Following this logic one could build an 'Export Competitiveness Model' which could determine the likelihood of a successful managerial decision.
An enterprise would typically consider four critical performance indicators in its decision-making process:
- Exports: The more a country exports the more competitive its production in global markets will be. A country with a high level of export implies a developed industrial base and related transportation infrastructure.
- Labor costs: The lower the labor costs, the lower the production cost structure and therefore the larger the profit margin.
- Country risk: The lower the country risk, the more sound and stable the legal environment will be to support business operations.
- Political stability: The more politically stable a country is, the more sustainable its operations will be in the future.
Ultimately we can find many reasons to choose China as the most suitable sourcing destination. Yet the full answer depends not on one or two factors but on a combination of different factors that together create a favorable environment for sourcing operations.
The number 1 rule for the astronauts' menu is to avoid food that could cause gas. Such foodstuffs may cause stomach ache for the astronauts. And since their spacesuits have a self-circulation system, any gaseous after-effects could affect the air quality for the astronauts.
scientists plan to pack on board traditional snacks from all the country's 56 ethnic groups.
At the Supply Chain Digest, Dr David Simchi-Levi of MIT has proclaimed that the dramatic rise in fuel prices and transportation costs of recent times constitutes a tipping point where logistics costs have started to negate the unit cost advantages of China and other Asian countries. As a result, Simchi-Levi has noted a number of companies that have either put Asian offshoring on hold or have brought production back to domestic or nearshore sources, the so-called in-sourcing (or near-shoring) phenomenon that is raising Mexico's profile for US sourcing and supply chains.
And logistics costs are not the only concerns with China. As this article from IHT outlines, inflation, rising labor costs, shortages of workers and energy, a strengthening currency, and dwindling tax breaks for foreign investors all have multinationals encouraging their suppliers to diversify out of China. With the so-called China plus one strategy, companies are expanding their bases elsewhere in Asia (particularly Vietnam) so as not to be overly dependent on factories in one country. Yet few companies are actually closing factories in China, and for those with large operations in China, China plus one is only a strategy intended to mitigate risk and control costs.
If US supply chains are not about to retreat en masse back to Mexico, expanding Chinese auto manufacturers are preparing to advance into Mexico to get a foothold in America. Following the Chinese company First Auto Works, who announced plans to build an assembly plant in Mexico with Grupo Salinas, private Chinese auto manufacturer Geely Automobile this week also announced plans to move ahead with construction of an assembly plant in Mexico to supply both the North and South American markets. Geely and a local partner will invest up to $270 million to build a factory in Leon, capital of Guanjuato state in central Mexico. With the plant eventually set to have an annual capacity of 300,000 units, Geely wants Mexico to be a stepping-stone for achieving its ambitions of conquering the US market.
And Geely might pave the way for a host of Chinese manufacturers to head into Mexico. With China now being Mexico's second largest trading partner, during his visit to China in July Mexican President Felipe Calderon invited Chinese business leaders to invest in Mexico:
So if some US supply chains are forced to head back closer to home in Mexico, manufacturers in China are prepared for a big push westwards, to Mexico and beyond.We do want global investment, and if there are (Chinese) companies that are thinking about investing in other (Latin American) nations, but those nations are not hospitable to investment, they should know that they are welcome in Mexico and we protect their rights.