By Jonathan Berkshire Miller, June 10, 2020
The COVID-19 crisis has provided a moment of clarity for many countries, including Canada, on the importance of secure supply chains. The lockdowns around the world have revealed important weaknesses in the supply chains used by many multinational companies — including those that Canadians rely on for critical supplies, such as protective personal equipment (PPE).
Acquiring PPE has been an enormous challenge for Canada since the pandemic was declared back in March. It has been particularly challenging because one of main source countries for PPE is China, where the pandemic originated. Many Chinese companies have been engaged in horse trading and the often-disingenuous auctioning of such supplies, attempting to take advantage of an international market for PPE and other medical supplies that cannot be satiated in the near term as a result of COVID-19.
We are now in a situation in which the PPE market has been described as the “Wild West,” where ethics and safety are often pushed to the sidelines in favour of rapid transactions and profit maximization. Of course, China has not been the only challenge — there have also been critical strains on our ability to procure supplies from the United States, which is an essential supply chain provider for many goods.
There will be a time to look back at our procurement practices and criticize incidents such as the Canadian planes that returned from China empty last month. But the more essential question we must imminently consider is how Canadian governments and private companies should respond, in order to emerge from the pandemic with stronger and more reliable supply chains.