Prof. Xiaojun Li receives funding for investigation of global supply chains in a post-pandemic world

How do global supply chains adapt to a global pandemic when raw materials, parts, components, and services cross national borders multiple times before final products are sold on world markets?

For many firms, the COVID-19 pandemic has merely served to accelerate the shrinking of production networks closer to consumer markets in order to avoid uncertainty in the changeable trading environment. A new project by UBC Political Science Professor Xiaojun Li will investigate how multinational firms are adapting to a post-pandemic world.

Dr. Xiaojun Li recently received funding from SSHRC’s Partnership Engage Grants COVID-19 Special Initiative 2020-2021 for his project titled, “COVID-19: Global Supply Chains and Multinational Corporations in the Post-Pandemic World.”

We spoke to Dr. Li about his new research.

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Dr. XIaojun Li

What have you seen from global supply chains and multinational corporations in response to COVID-19 that inspired you to pursue this project?

The disruption of China’s supply chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown understandably sent negative shockwaves to global production and markets. The widespread shortage of medical supplies and personal protective equipment, in particular, has exposed the danger of relying on China for manufactured products. Building on my previous research on the politics of global supply chains, this project asks: How will multinational firms with extensive supply chain networks navigate the post-pandemic world? What roles can government play in the process?

Who are you working with to help you conduct your research? Do you have any partners you are working with?

The partner organization of this project is the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a not-for-profit organization focused on Canada’s relations with Asia. I am also currently a Wang Gungwu Visiting Scholar at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, which is providing support for my field research in Asia.

What does funding from SSHRC’s Partnership Engage Grants COVID-19 Special Initiative mean for your project?

The funding from SSHRC’s Partnership Engage Grants COVID-19 Special Initiative will contribute crucially to participant recruitment for the firm-level survey.

Who will you be interviewing and surveying? What are the next steps in your research?

I will be interviewing and surveying firm managers in Canada, China, the United States, and select South East Asian countries, including those from my previous research for my book in the summer of 2017 and 2018—it would be particularly interesting to see how their views and strategies have evolved over time in the post-pandemic world. In addition to firms, I will also conduct interviews with policymakers to understand the role of the government in shaping firm strategies and the type of incentives most and least likely to facilitate relocation or reshoring.

What do you expect to learn about how multinational corporations are responding to COVID-19?

I hope to understand from the firms’ perspective the extent of their supply chain disruptions, the main challenges and opportunities in the medium and long term, and the amount and type of support they wish to see from the home government, among other things. I expect their answers to vary depending on their positions in the global supply chain.

How will this project help to inform the Canadian government’s policies and long-term plans?

Findings from this project, particularly experiences from other countries, can inform Canadian government policies and long-term plans to better support firms adapt to the fragmentation of global supply chains in the post-pandemic world.