Trade, Commerce and International Supply Chain Collaboration

I would like expand on thoughts that occurred to me recently when the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals and the International Air Cargo Association held meetings together in Atlanta, and the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations decided to co-locate their annual meeting with that of the Transportation Intermediaries Association.

These and other professional societies and trade associations representing the interests of varying participants in the supply chain are increasingly seeing the value in meeting together and working out solutions to help  their constituents enjoy the value contributed by an unbroken “risk adverse” supply chain.

The potential impact is enormous if we can work together to achieve safe, efficient and speedy movement of freight across borders, through different time zones and in negotiating conflicting sets of regulations.

A recent example in Washington, D.C., should make clear the need for collaboration across the different supply chain entities. Currently before Congress is legislation aimed at strengthening the regulation of track-and-trace capability on products such as pharmaceuticals across state lines. Lawmakers and their staffs have reached out to the industry for help in writing the new law.

In addition, pharmaceuticals are thoroughly international products requiring a supply chain operating at maximum efficiency and with the utmost in both speed and security from the source of supply to the consumer. Shortages of flu vaccine and other medicines in the United States in recent years have brought this point home.

Because of concerns in this country with counterfeit drugs entering the supply chain, the entire industry — manufacturers of patent medicine, generic medicine manufacturers, wholesalers, importers, pharmacists, drug store chains and the 3PL providers represented by IWLA – have engaged in a series of meetings with congressional staff on legislation to cover all labeling, packing, transit and retail distribution of pharmaceuticals. This is a momentous task, and one that has profound implications for public health, safety and supply adequacy.

Warehouse-based 3PLs are central because they are an integral segment of the supply chain linking all of the other sections. Unfortunately, their role is not fully grasped even by other participants, and all too often is misunderstood by government policymakers. Because of our unique legal status as a bailee of the goods of others, warehouse-based 3PLs never take title to the products they handle, never open the packages and never, ever compound medicines. However, we perform a key role in securing and delivering medicine on time, in the correct amounts, and with the full assurance that it has not been tampered with, to hospitals and retail drug stores.

In order to address this persistent lack of understanding about the role of the warehouse, IWLA conducted an educational workshop for the other stakeholders led by our membership. This workshop showed our track and trace, inventory management, and lot-down-to-blister pack monitoring of medicine in the supply chain.

Our goal was to demonstrate how we provide transparency and security to our partners in the supply chain, so that as a group, we and our supply chain partners could present FDA staff with the facts about the unbroken, seamless, secure means we have created to safely and securely transport medicine.

Because the supply chain extends across borders, we also must work together to provide customers and regulators assurance that the supply chain, although composed of many players and businesses, is one where instant identification of anything in the stream of commerce can be found, recognized, recalled or embargoed as is required.

The recent collaboration of industry groups, whether in co-location of annual meetings or in reacting to legislative proposals, is a powerful demonstration of the work necessary to create a seamless worldwide supply chain. wt

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