US & Global Economic Impact Analysis and Forecasts

Freedonia analysts and economists are sharing their insights on how major events are impacting different parts of the US and global economies.

Biden Administration to Investigate Global Supply Chain Issues

On February 24, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating that federal agencies conduct a 100-day review of critically important supply chains, as the COVID-19 pandemic has raised focus on issues regarding access to certain products and materials generally sourced from abroad (and particularly those from China).  The review will focus specifically on four items, some of which have faced supply chain problems even before the pandemic:

  • Semiconductors:  Access to these chips, which are used for multiple purposes in motor vehicles and also are essential components of iPhones, personal computers, smart TVs, gaming systems, and more, increasingly became a problem during the pandemic. As remote working became more commonplace, demand for these chips increased greatly to accommodate the need for more personal computers and laptops. Additionally, trade restrictions placed on imports from China also caused difficulties, as many of China’s leading chip manufacturers had export restrictions placed on them by the United States. Additionally, some of these companies claim plans to expand manufacturing to the United States have been hindered by national security concerns raised by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), due in part to the possible military applications of these products. The US-based Semiconductor Industry Association claims that the US’s share of global semiconductor manufacturing has fallen from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, and US manufacturers are pushing the White House to work with Congress to provide investment that they claim will support research and design operations and to increase domestic semiconductor production.
  • Pharmaceuticals: Shortages in certain drugs during the pandemic has also prompted a deeper examination into the pharmaceutical supply chain. A combination of increased demand for drugs to address the rising number of hospitalizations and the shutdown or slowdown of some international shipping ports led to key shortages. There are also concerns about being too reliant on China for key pharmaceutical ingredients, which has doubled over the last decade
  • Electric vehicle batteries: Global manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries is currently heavily concentrated in China, with Japan and South Korea ranking numbers two and three leading manufacturers, and the US back at number six, according to a report from S&P Global. With major US automobile manufacturers increasingly focusing on electric vehicles – including General Motors, which has announced that it intends to phase out all gas-powered vehicles by 2035 – reliable access to these batteries will be crucial in the coming years. 
  • Critical minerals: Rare earth minerals are used in a wide variety of applications, including airplanes, steel, light bulbs, wind turbines, and many more. Supply chain issues for these minerals long predate the COVID-19 pandemic, as China is the leading global producer of rare earth minerals. This problem of production being so heavily concentrated in a single country has been intensified by some of the Chinese government’s behavior in the past, including a brief restriction of rare earth exports to Japan in 2010 in response to a dispute in the East China Seas. These concerns have led to increased efforts from the rest of the world to ramp up rare earth mineral production, which has lowered China’s share over the last decade from around 98% down to 63%. In a continuation of efforts from the Obama and Trump administrations, Biden’s executive order will examine means of addressing weaknesses in the rare earth minerals supply chain. This will likely include both strengthening the US rare earth mineral industry and transitioning reliance on imports to countries with whom the US has friendlier reliance – primarily meaning a transition away from China.

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Can More Open International Trade Ease the Impact of COVID-19?

Much of the economic impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus deals with its disruption of international trade. Global supply chains are intricately linked, expertly optimized, and – as a result – often inflexible in the face of disruption. These fragile international linkages, key to the modern economy, are the reason why most economists predict that the coronavirus will have a much larger negative impact than the SARS outbreak in 2003.

In an article, Bloomberg Economics looks at the flipside – how can international trade help ease the economic impacts of the coronavirus? Remedies such as reducing tariffs and increasing international coordination would help grease the wheels of trade and mitigate the downside to the virus. But in today’s atmosphere of divisive, confrontational politics, hoping for greater international cooperation and easing of tensions may be a tall order.

  Covid-19      Tariffs