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Trump Acts to Head Off Key Medical Exports, Calls Out 3M Again

April 4, 2020, 12:31 AM

President Donald Trump said he had invoked the Defense Production Act to ban the export of crucial medical supplies needed around the world to fight the coronavirus pandemic -- escalating a battle with allies and 3M Co.

“The secretary of Homeland Security will work with FEMA to prevent the export of N95 respirators, surgical masks, gloves and other personal protecting equipment,” Trump said Friday at a White House briefing. “We need these items immediately for domestic use, we have to have them.”

The move flies in the face of a call just last week by Trump and other G20 leaders to work together and present a “united front” against Covid-19.

In a March 26 statement following a special video conference, the leaders vowed that “we will work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders.”

Trade experts have warned that any decision to block exports of masks and other equipment would risk retaliatory measures by countries that would undermine international efforts to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.

Earlier: 3M’s Roman Scoffs at ‘Absurd’ Mask Claims Amid Trump Pressure

The U.S. is not the first country to do so. China limited exports of protective equipment for a time earlier this year at the height of an outbreak there. The European Union has also introduced new rules that require special permits for any exports of medical products, including protective equipment and ventilators, from member states.

Trump’s move came in response to a clamor from medical professionals in the U.S. running out of the equipment needed. That shortage has been blamed on inadequate federal stockpiles as well as a shortfall in domestic production.

The U.S. has until now been relying on emergency air shipments from China and other countries to help fill the gap. Yet it is unclear whether other countries would allow such flights to continue if the U.S. is refusing to allow its own exports.

“Ordering U.S. companies not to export medical equipment and materials while urgently needing imports of these products from around the world is a losing strategy,” said Wendy Cutler, a former senior U.S. trade official who is now at the Asia Society.

“We can’t have it both ways — restrict exports while we scour the world for imports of these essential medical products.”

The president has been in a public shouting match with 3M over its export commitments. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Thursday that the administration has had concerns about whether the company’s production around the world is being delivered to the U.S.

3M responded earlier Friday that there would be “significant humanitarian implications of halting supplies of respirators to health-care workers in Canada and Latin America.”

The company’s chief executive officer, Mike Roman, said it’s “absurd” to suggest the company isn’t doing all it can to increase availability of masks in the U.S. and stop middlemen from jacking up prices.

“The narrative overnight that we’re not doing everything to maximize the delivery of respirators in our home country is false,” Roman said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

But Trump fired back on Friday, saying he remains displeased with the giant manufacturer.

‘Not Happy’

“We’re not happy, and the people that dealt with it directly are not at all happy with 3M,” Trump said.

The St. Paul, Minnesota-based company has ramped up production to 100 million masks a month globally. 3M highlighted efforts to increase the number of masks imported from its overseas factories, including approval to ship 10 million respirators from China.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the president’s latest remarks.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in, saying at a press conference on Friday that 3M has said it’s committed to delivering masks to the country, and that Canada is in discussions with the U.S. about continuing trade in medical supplies without restrictions.“We continue to be confident that we’re going to receive the necessary equipment,” Trudeau said. “We will do everything we can that no part of Canada goes without.”

Read More: Germany and France Blame Americans for Playing Dirty Over Masks

The president is attempting to corral medical resources to meet the growing domestic need for masks, ventilators and other crucial supplies. He said Friday he’d make some exceptions and allow exports to hard-hit countries, like Italy.

“I’m not going to be stopping that,” Trump said.

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the export restrictions could “reinforce the same message that the steel and aluminum tariffs did — that when it comes to national security, the United States no longer treats close allies any different than enemies.”

Officials in Germany and France accused the U.S. of using unfair means to obtain protective masks before Trump had even ordered the export ban.

Berlin’s state interior ministry blamed the U.S. for confiscating 200,000 masks ordered from an American producer when they were in transit through Bangkok, with one official calling it an act of “modern piracy.”

French Prime minister Edouard Philippe said Thursday that his administration has seen orders canceled as a result of the global shortage of protective gear. Some French officials are blaming unidentified Americans for swooping in to outbid them as they try to secure supplies.

At the White House briefing, Trump also said that the Department of Health and Human Services had seized nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks, 600,000 gloves, as well as “many, many, many bottles and disinfectant sprays that were being hoarded.”

“All of this material is now being given to health-care workers,” Trump said.

--With assistance from Kait Bolongaro, Patrick Donahue, Richard Clough and Ania Nussbaum.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Mario Parker in Washington at mparker22@bloomberg.net;
Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net;
Shawn Donnan in Washington at sdonnan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net

John Harney

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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