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Fitch Ratings: 3D Printing May Disrupt Ports and Reduce US Imports from China

Friday, 14 June 2019 | 00:00

Ports may be most exposed to disruptive effects of 3D printing (3DP) on transportation infrastructure assets over the next 20 years, Fitch Ratings says. 3DP could reduce global trade, including reducing US imports from China by 10%-25%. Short- and medium-term risks are limited due to a still emerging technology uptake.

We expect 3DP to grow significantly over the next 20 years, potentially reaching about 3% of total global manufacturing. 3DP is less labour intensive than traditional manufacturing and could reduce reliance on lower-wage countries for product assembly, which is a key driver of the US-China bilateral trade imbalance. In addition, as mass production via 3DP becomes more economically feasible, supply chains could be shortened with more manufacturing carried out locally. Net goods transportation may reduce as a result, negatively affecting transportation infrastructure’s revenue. Ports, which primarily handle the transportation of cargo rather than passengers and account for the majority of international goods transportation, may be the most affected by 3DP.

We believe that if trade protectionism continues to intensify, businesses in the US and China may have a strong incentive to adopt processes that facilitate domestic goods production, including 3DP. This could help the US reduce its bilateral trade deficit with China.

The bulk of US imports from China are products that, based on recent technological advancements, are well suited for 3DP, in our view. These imports include machinery and electronic equipment, such as computers and mobile phones. We expect that 20%-50% of these goods can be produced domestically. We also expect trade relationships between other countries to be affected.

However, some forms of traditional mass manufacturing are likely to remain in place due to cost efficiencies, which may limit the impact of 3DP printing on international trade. Furthermore, the effect is likely to be mitigated by an increase in transportation of materials to be used in 3DP.
Source: Fitch Ratings

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