The Washington International Trade Association held a webinar on February 25th to examine how Covid-19 is remaking global supply chains. Among those in attendance were Karyn Booth a Partner and Transportation Practice Group Leader of Thompson Hine LLP, Dr. Noel Hacegaba the Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Port of Long Beach, Nate Herman the Senior Vice President of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, Weston LaBar the Chief Executive Officer of the Harbor Trucking Association, and Lori Ann LaRocco the Senior Editor of Guests at CNBC Business News who acted as the event’s moderator.
The panel began by mentioning how the Biden administration has signaled that they are going to make serious investments in infrastructure in the U.S. and Covid-19’s disruption to the supply chain points to the need for swift action. The panel highlighted that U.S. businesses on average spend $27 billion each year in extra fake break costs due to congestion and the total cost to meet infrastructure needs is estimated to be $3.7 trillion. These numbers bring attention to the need for significant investments to improve the flow rate across the supply chain, drive velocity, reliability, enhance the United States’ place in the global market, and increase the standard of living for Americans. In addition to more funding, the U.S. needs to make sure that these infrastructure investments are strategically placed. The panel suggested that the development of a comprehensive national freight policy that takes a holistic view of the supply chain instead of piecemealing is the solution. Moreover, they touched on how an integrated planning and funding system is key in the success of this situation. A plan that addresses the needs of the freight movement system will be critical to developing a comprehensive regional and state waypoint plan.
The panel mentioned the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Act, which was recently enacted by Congress, as a good template to begin these developments; The FAST Act looked at expanding funding, streamlining the environmental review, permitting processes, and promoting the deployment of transportation technologies. Furthermore, the panel went over the need for the formation of a multi-modal freight office that would report directly to the Secretary of Transportation; This would help with the understanding of connection points in the supply chain, linking freight and transportation to the US economy. Last off, the panel went over the fact that as much the U.S needs to invest in its physical infrastructure, it needs to start investing in its data highways as the entire supply chain is relying more heavily on data. This data flow would allow the U.S. to get the containers to flow more efficiently and is part of why Congress needs to look at ways to start funding data highways, in addition to physical infrastructure.