May 18, 2020

Saudi Arabia recalls its envoy to Sweden

Al-Ibrahim
Margot Wallstrom
Lofven
Saudi ambassador
John O'Hanlon
2 min
Saudi Arabia recalls its envoy to Sweden

The Saudi Ambassador to Sweden Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim has been recalled to Riyadh following further deterioration of relations between the two nations.

The news was given in a brief statement by the Saudi state news agency SPA saying that: “The move to recall Ambassador Ibrahim S. Al-Ibrahim was prompted by remarks made by the Swedish foreign minister that amounted to interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom, in violation of international covenants and diplomatic conventions.”

This is taken to refer to Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom’s having criticised Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and describing Riyadh's sentencing of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to what she called a "mediaeval" 1,000 lashes.

Earlier this week Wallstrom was prevented from giving a speech to the Arab League in Cairo after protests from Saudi delegates.  Following that meeting meeting, Arab foreign ministers expressed their "condemnation and astonishment" at Wallstrom’s remarks, which were “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia," according to a statement published by Gulf News.

The ambassador’s recall quickly followed an announcement by Sweden that it will not extend a long-standing defence cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Margot Wallstrom confirmed on Wednesday that the decision had been taken because of Saudi Arabia's lack of respect for human rights.

The agreement stems from a memorandum of understanding signed with Saudi Arabia in 2005. It set out details of cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and weapons manufacture, and paved the way for the sale of Saab's Erieye radar system to the Saudis in 2010. This deal has to be ratified every five years: the next renewal date would have been in May. While Sweden’s powerful armaments lobby is upset by the cancellation, it is something that has been called for by the many within the country’s left-leaning coalition.

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Jun 27, 2021

Billionaire Kumar Birla Champions Regional Supply Chains

AdityaBirlaGroup
Alibaba
globalisation
Regionalisation
Elise Leise
3 min
As multinationals try to recover from the pandemic, Kumar Birla has a solution—narrow your scope and invest in reliable, regional suppliers

As the head of the Aditya Birla Group, a US$46bn firm that operates in 36 countries, Kumar Mangalam Birla is no stranger to splashy strategic moves. Yet his recent announcement that he no longer wants to acquire globally distributed supply chains stood out. While many companies have struggled to cope with shipping backlogs, his firm has chosen to pivot and focus on regional networks. Said Birla: ‘We wouldn’t look at a company or a business where you source in one corner of the world and sell in another’. 

 

He cited protectionism, the pandemic, and the limited movement of products and people around the world as ABG’s primary causes of lost profits. And they aren’t alone. Over the past year, 900 of the U.S. and Europe’s biggest IT, defence, and financial services firms have lost an average of US$184mn apiece

An Era of Global Disruption

Over the past few decades, low shipping rates and rapid delivery times have lulled multinational firms into a false sense of security. In the early 2000s, companies chose to take on significant global supply chain risks in exchange for increased profits. First, it made sense to manufacture higher-value goods, such as electronics, in low-cost regions throughout Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Second, first-tier suppliers started to outsource the manufacturing of specific components to second-, third-, and even fourth-tiers—leaving supply chains with extremely limited visibility. 

 

So when COVID-19 disruptions struck certain regions, companies were caught unprepared. Usually, these events come few and far between. But over the past ten years, we’ve seen a number of ‘black swan’ events that have thrown the supply chain industry into chaos. Here’s a quick history of the most significant events in recent years, thanks to the MIT Sloan Management Review

 

  • 2010. China creates export quotas for rare earth elements. 
  • 2011. The Tōhoku Earthquake hits East Japan; flooding sweeps throughout Thailand. 
  • 2016-present. Trade wars between the U.S. and China hurt suppliers. 
  • 2020-present. COVID-19 pandemic shuts down international shipping ports.

 

Now, Kumar Birla is one of many who want to re-evaluate how we run our supply chains. Though his company has acquired 40+ companies in the last quarter decade, Birla intends to build up local hubs rather than expand operations. 

 

Why Pursue Regionalisation? 

Combine Chinese economic dominance, global supply chain vulnerabilities, and major government policy shifts around the world, and you have a storm brewing on the horizon for big multinational firms. As Brookings noted, ‘the biggest risk for trading opportunities in the developing world is growing protectionism in more advanced economies, often dressed up as national security protection’. 

 

Altogether, from the U.S. to the European Union, governments are trying to protect their domestic supply chains, secure adequate stockpiles of materials, and build world-class local networks. Consider Biden’s recent executive order, which seeks to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to home soil, or Japan’s bid to open more memory chip fabrication factories near Tokyo. The Aditya Birla Group intends to react in kind. Said Birla: ‘We’re looking at regionalism as a very big theme’. 

Will Others Follow Suit? 

In the post-pandemic economy, global businesses must decide whether to expand or contract. On one hand, the Alibaba Group’s Cainiao Smart Logistics Network recently launched a direct flight between Hong Kong, China, and Lagos, Nigeria. On the other, the Japanese government is desperate to make its chip manufacturing domestic. Indeed, as two supply chain strategies diverge in a post-pandemic world, the one businesses take may make all the difference. 

 

Yet Birla is confident that regionalisation is the right call. According to his words at the Qatar Economic Forum, even necessary cross-border transactions should be smaller in scope. And as the Bloomberg Billionaires Index now lists his net wealth at US$10.4bn, up 52% from 2020, he may have the cash to test his theories out. ‘Regional hubs, regional presence, regional employment, catering to regional demand’, he stated. ‘We’re a global company rooted in local economics’. 

 

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