Decoding the Secrets of Global Trade: The Power of Bill of Lading Data

Unlock the potential of real-time global trade and supply chain insights by harnessing the power of company-level data.

By Gilberto García-Vazquez

Have you ever considered the colossal task of moving goods across oceans? What is the secret key to understanding the intricate network of global trade? The answer lies in a unique data source: the Bill of Lading (BoL) data. This real-time data provides transaction-level details on sea-transported goods to and from the United States, enabling unparalleled insight into global trade networks.

Unlocking Trade Mysteries: The Strength of BoL Data

The true power of BoL data lies in the detailed perspective it offers, transcending the limitations of traditional aggregated trade data. Instead of broad summaries, BoL data unveils specifics about shippers, consignees, product details, and traded quantities. The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) has now incorporated a comprehensive BoL dataset from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, revealing a treasure trove of information about millions of products traded via the United States.

Understanding the BoL Data: Advantages and Hurdles

BoL data comes with a myriad of benefits. It illuminates the behaviors and strategies of individual companies, often concealed in broader analyses. Furthermore, it allows real-time tracking of supply chain disruptions and trade networks. Despite its advantages, BoL data is not without limitations. It focuses solely on maritime trade and potential gaps due to company anonymity can hamper the data's completeness.

The Power of Artificial Intelligence in Enhancing BoL Data

To compensate for these limitations, innovative solutions such as artificial intelligence come into play. Machine learning techniques can identify and correct errors such as typos or accidental omissions, significantly improving the data's usability and comprehensiveness.

A Real-World Application: Unraveling IKEA's Supply Chain with BoL Data

BoL data is an effective tool for evaluating trade patterns and disruptions, a concept illustrated by analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on IKEA's US supply chain.

IKEA's sourcing strategy predominantly relied on a few countries, such as China and Vietnam. This concentration rendered the company vulnerable to disruptions, a weakness that became apparent during the COVID-19 crisis, leading to production hold-ups, shipping delays, and increased freight costs.

In response to these adversities, IKEA undertook strategic modifications to its supply chain, broadening its sourcing to include more countries and suppliers. Consequently, IKEA's supply chain witnessed an increase in diversification by 2022.

Evaluating in terms of TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units), the top 10% of suppliers represented about 55.1% of total TEUs in 2021, which decreased marginally to 49.8% in 2022. This reduction suggests a slight deconsolidation in the supply chain, indicating a move towards reduced dependency on a handful of suppliers, thereby minimizing potential supply chain risks.

Let's delve into specific instances of how IKEA's supply network has adopted:

  • IKEA increased its armchair imports from Pakistan by 20%, a strategic decision considering its low-cost manufacturing and skilled labor.
  • The company further increased its imports of kitchen cabinets from Vietnam by 15%, leveraging the country's reputation as a notable furniture producer.
  • IKEA strategically increased the sourcing of products from Turkey in 2022, as Turkey is a significant producer of furniture and home goods.
  • The product "Glassware, except kitchen table" experienced a significant sourcing shift, moving away from the shipper M&M Militzer & Munch Romania. By 2022, IKEA diversified its sourcing for this product, incorporating suppliers in different countries, including Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, and Egypt.

These examples underscore the dynamic nature of IKEA's supply chain, wherein sourcing strategies and supplier relationships undergo substantial shifts yearly. They also emphasize the merit of a diversified sourcing approach, as the fastest-growing product-supplier combinations span multiple ports across various countries.

The Potential of BoL Data: Gazing into the Future

While challenges exist, the potential of BoL data is indisputable. Through ongoing research and the application of machine learning, we can continually enhance this data's accuracy and comprehensiveness. Furthermore, the integration of BoL data with other datasets can broaden our understanding of global trade dynamics.

As we stand on the brink of a data-driven era in international trade, we can't overstate the value of BoL data for decision-makers navigating the global trade landscape. So, are you ready to unlock the secrets of global trade with BoL data?

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