International Trade

Chinese whispers: COVID-19, global supply chains in essential goods, and public policy

If taken at their word, senior policymakers in the major economic powers have drawn adverse conclusions concerning the performance of cross-border supply chains during the first 6 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. That such supply chains often implicate China, the origin of the pandemic, has also led to claims that trading partners have become too dependent on Chinese supplies. This in turn has led to policy interventions designed to reconfigure supply chains, which if adopted broadly could revise the terms upon which international business operates. A critical evaluation of this policymaker assessment is presented, based on near-time monitoring of medical and food trade disruption induced by government policy, on fine-grained trade data on the pre-pandemic international sourcing patterns of medical goods and medicines by France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, on statements from U.S. government health experts before and during the pandemic on the frequency and sources of medicine shortages, and on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s latest evidence on the causes of medicine shortages in 2020. Such evidence vitiates the adverse conclusions mentioned above, but raises important questions about the factors that determine policy towards international business during a time of intensifying geopolitical rivalry.