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News & Press: International Trade News

Project Defend: New approach to national security aims to diversify supply and ‘reshore’ manufacture

22 May 2020  

ppe manufacture

The UK government is drawing up plans to diversify the UK’s imports of critical goods, including pharmaceuticals and PPE, as it plans to end the country’s reliance on supply from China.

The Times reports today (22 May) that the Prime Minister has instructed civil servants to draw up plans for ‘Project Defend’ – a strategy for protecting national security after the pandemic.

The new approach will identify key economic vulnerabilities and potentially hostile governments with the aim of ensuring critical supply lines are no longer dependant on individual countries for non-food essentials.

The PM has also said he would look to protect Britain’s technology industry as part of the new strategy.

The news comes amid growing scrutiny of China’s handling of the coronavirus, resulting in a trade dispute between China and Australia and heightened tensions between China and the US

The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said in April that there will be no return to ‘business as usual’ with China after the pandemic.

Global trading system

A spokesman for Make UK, the trade body for UK manufacturers, told the Daily Update (22 May) that most manufacturers were already looking at increasing their supply chain resilience.

However, they also said it was important to remember the UK “continues to operate in a global trading system.”

They said:

 “While improving the size and resilience of our manufacturing base is very welcome, it is important to remember that we operate – and will continue to operate – in a global trading system. 

“That means we need ready access to raw materials and components, many of which are not found in the UK, and also preferential access to key export markets to make production at scale viable.”

They told us it was not “practically or economically realistic” to become self-sufficient for some groups of products.

They said reshoring production will help to increase supply chain resilience, adding that “diversifying the number and location of suppliers, investing in technology, and consolidating production regionally are also options that are on the table.”