Inside Logistics

U.S. execs keen on globalization, study shows

New DHL survey finds business leaders believe their organizations depend on international business partners and global trade


March 12, 2021
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Executives in the largest American companies believe their future depends on global trade and international business.

Results of a new survey released by DHL found a positive outlook toward international trade and travel this year, despite ongoing pandemic-related restrictions. Most senior decision makers surveyed said their organization’s recovery from the economic recession caused by the global health crisis depends on robust international flows of trade, people, information and capital.

Five hundred senior decision makers were surveyed from U.S. companies with more than US$1 billion in revenues across a range of industries, including technology, telecommunications, financial services, retail, professional services, and manufacturing in January and February 2021.

Ready to integrate

With significant declines in global trade and the collapse of international travel, coupled with a move toward more protectionist policies, there has been healthy debate about the future of globalization in the United States. DHL found that while the public health crisis created unforeseen challenges and disrupted travel, U.S. businesses remain dependent on integration with international markets. They want to expand the international flow of trade to regain economic momentum.

Almost three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) reported their organization is extremely or very dependent on internationally based business partners.

Nearly nine out 10 decision makers (89 percent) said that their organization’s economic recovery will rely upon robust international flows of trade over the next 12 months.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (81 percent) believe their organization’s profitability would increase if the U.S. were to move away from some of the protectionist trade policies of recent years.

“The ability to do business internationally has been crucial to the success of many organizations for a very long time now, and this has only been enhanced by major leaps forward in areas such as technology and travel. The dynamic growth of e-commerce and the way in which it has given entrepreneurs access to a global customer base has demonstrated this,” said Mike Parra, CEO, DHL Express Americas.

More resilient supply chains

With the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the fourth quarter of last year and a number of virus variants active, U.S. businesses will continue to navigate the precarious waters of the pandemic for the remainder of 2021.

For companies that source or operate in international markets, particularly with lean supply chains or a concentrated reliance on particular suppliers, the pandemic has amplified risks related to disruption. More than six out of 10 surveyed (63 percent) responded that Covid-related lockdowns surpass all other concerns.

The research found that technology, such as automation and risk-monitoring tools, is a lifeline, allowing organizations to scale and transform their operations as the crisis has evolved. Over half of respondents (54 percent) said they have increased use of digital tools.

Half have also identified alternative suppliers (51 percent) to increase flexibility and mitigate supply chain risks. The research also found 44 percent have diversified suppliers across multiple geographies.

Trade is critical

Trade is critical to business recovery. Businesses are counting on the resumption of international trade to help boost their recovery, after U.S. imports and exports both fell last year. They are confident that trade will bounce back to or even exceed pre-pandemic levels within one to two years.

Business leaders are also optimistic about their outlook for foreign investment to grow sales, operations, or their supply network. Over eight in 10 (83 percent) said they are planning to increase their investment in foreign countries this year.

The top region being targeted for foreign investment is North America, a sign that decision makers like free trade. The ratification of the new, modernized trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico last year brought a measure of economic certainty to the region, stability that was needed to spur investment in new suppliers, new factories, or new customers.

A surprising 44 percent of respondents believe that their organization is planning to increase international business travel to beyond pre-pandemic levels in 2021. This is a positive indicator for the struggling travel industry, particularly considering that a further 41 percent of respondents’ organizations plan to at least return to pre-pandemic levels of travel during the course of this year.

U.S. corporations are ready to recommit with its allies, especially on global issues such as climate change. Respondents see the importance of trying to reverse, or at least slow, changes in the climate. Almost all (96 percent) of respondents believe the U.S. rejoining The Paris Agreement is important.

The spirit of international cooperation has been strong in the response to the pandemic. Businesses, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations have been working across borders to solve problems at scale, such as developing a vaccine for Covid-19.

“The U.S. economy has shown its underlying resilience through Covid-19, and we have seen first-hand the strong role that international trade has played both in directly supporting the pandemic response and maintaining demand for many of our U.S. customers’ products,” said Mike Parra. “The survey findings clearly show the commitment that U.S. business leaders, for their part, have toward engaging with the global marketplace and also toward U.S. leadership on major issues such as climate change.”

The survey was conducted on behalf of DHL by independent market research specialist Vanson Bourne.