FedEx Blog

FedEx Blog

Why Trade?

December 12, 2008

If you’re like me, you have a long shopping list this holiday season.  But have you ever stopped to think where the products you purchase come from? Chances are, those flowers you ordered online came from flower farms in Latin America.  The hand-crafted bracelet you bought in a department store could have come from Bali or even India.

This is not just a sign of the times.  Over the past three centuries, the levels of access people have had to goods, services and even each other has risen dramatically.

Trade has been a crucial part of the human experience for much of recorded history. Historically, the quest for materials and markets drove global exploration, colonization and expansion. Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Americas looking for an alternate route to India and China.

Today, if you have the Internet and access to a global express delivery company like FedEx, you can sell anywhere in the world, and you can purchase goods from anywhere in the world.  You are part of the global economy.

FedEx strengthens and expands global trade, especially the trade of high value goods.  Of course, it has only been 35 years since FedEx was born and with it, the modern express transportation industry!

However, many people question, what is the impact of trade? Is trade good? Does trade even matter? The reality is that trade is critical in expanding global prosperity and lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Take for example a small maker of belt buckles in Mexico whose exports have soared 2,300 percent in five years because of free trade and the Internet, and about Indian artisans, once impoverished, who are selling their jewelry and fashions worldwide with the help of an efficient supply chain.

For this blog, I want to explore a simple question – why should countries trade with each other?

Let’s break it down to simplest of principles.  If country A produced two commodities X and Y.  It produced X very competitively and Y not so competitively.  As for country B, it does exactly the opposite – produces Y very well and X, not that well.

What’s the best outcome for both countries?

It would be for country A to produce only X and for country B to produce only Y and trade with each other.

I am not sure if this is intuitive or not.  The theory of comparative advantage is the underpinning of trade between countries.  Multiply the number of countries and tack on the commodities produced, this can get complex in a hurry.  Not to mention artificial trade barriers and opaque trade processes.

But, it doesn’t hurt to start from first principles.


    Thanks to FedEx in a way Memphis is center of the global village. Let me share an interesting article I read in WSJ back in 2005 – “Laptop Trail”-,,SB111825761813954442,00.html?mod=todays_us_marketplace
    Let me summarize the Global Supply chain mentioned in it.
    Assume you order a HP laptop in San Francisco – Here is the trail:
    • Call center in India take the order
    • Validated order transmitted to Taiwanese-owned Quanta plan in Shanghai, China
    • Laptop Assembled from parts from:
    o Hard drive – Japan, China, Singapore, US etc.,
    o Power supplies – China
    o Magnesium casing – China
    o Memory Chips – S. Korea, Taiwan, US, Germany
    o LCD – S. Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China
    o Microprocessors – USA
    o Graphic Processors – Designed in US, Canada: made in Taiwan
    o Software – from India, USA etc.
    • Computer shipments consolidated at Shanghai airport and flown freight to Memphis (Thanks to FedEx )
    • From Memphis, Individual laptops send to customer.

    If I remember correctly, the whole lifecycle/turn around time of that supply chain is just couple of days (Thanks again to FedEx).

    Bye the way, after working globally and personally exploring 14 countries (including most mentioned above), I don’t think the efficiency alone is the reason for the trade. In my contrarian view world is NOT FLAT – I believe it is TILTED because of visionary leaders like Fred Smith or visionary Governments in Taiwan, China, Singapore or the entrepreneurial class in India I don’t believe in efficiency alone – so trade is also artificial and so far big way influenced by strong $

    I am worried that tilt may steepen further in today’s economic Tsunami – Just a contrarian thought for the discussion (if posted) 

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