Trump's trade war exacerbated shortage of medical equipment

Hospital workers at the front of the fight against the corona virus report dangerous supply shortages such as masks and gloves. Trade experts accuse President Donald Trump of politicizing the pandemic and risking the lives of first-aiders by continuing to wage his trade war against China.

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro is leading plans for an executive regulation that would require federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and Defense to purchase medical equipment and supplies from American manufacturers.

“We have to have them bought by American producers on American soil,” he told CNBC.

Trade experts say the timing couldn’t be worse. “There is absolutely no reason to do this now,” said Michael O. Moore, professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University. “There is no long-term economic benefit of not allowing medical care while we are in the midst of a health crisis.”

Many of the most important personal protective equipment in healthcare are of Chinese origin. According to the Peterson Institute for International EconomicsAbout half of the PPE items that the United States imports come from China, and for some items the percentages are much higher: 70 percent of the nose and throat protection and 57 percent of the goggles and visors. In addition, 45 percent of the protective clothing and 39 percent of the gloves that the US imports come from China.

“China makes 120 million masks a day, while US hospitals ask volunteers to make them at home. We now need Chinese PSA, ventilators, and more. “

“China makes 120 million masks a day, while US hospitals ask volunteers to make them at home. We now need Chinese PSA, ventilators, and more, ”said Peter Petri, professor of international finance at Brandeis International Business School.

The United States does not have the supply chains and manufacturing capabilities that would be required to manufacture all of these devices. Relocating a global production process is, under the best of circumstances, a complicated and costly process – which is not the case under the current conditions. The Association for Accessible Medicines, a pharmaceutical trading group, also argued that the rule would affect Americans’ ability to get medication quickly and cheaply.

The proposed regulation is not the only White House trade hurdle for healthcare providers. Only in the past two weeks have officials released some of this equipment from Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports when the U.S. trade representative’s office suspended the tariffs on a handful of Chinese medical supplies imports.

Excluded items include disposable overshoes and certain types of disposable masks. However, Bown described these exclusions as piecemeal and inadequate in the face of a global pandemic, especially since tariffs will be reinstated in September when some public health experts say the United States may still be concerned with the effects of the coronavirus.

“The exclusions are defined based on the needs of specific companies or groups of industries, but if there are other tariffs and no one requests to abolish them, they will persist,” said Bown. “The tariff exclusions that have been granted so far are temporary and the public cannot know whether they will cut tariffs comprehensively for all COVID-19 treatment products.”

Similarly, trade experts criticized the opening of a file by the USTR asking for additional exemptions as too little, too late.

“The USTR commenting process is not well suited to addressing the urgency of medical supply shortages,” said Dean Pinkert, senior counsel at Hughes Hubbard & Reed and former commissioner with the International Trade Commission.

To apply for an exemption, organizations must submit purchase records from Chinese suppliers, including units and dollar values, for the past three years. You must also document “whether the particular product is only available from China and whether the particular product and / or a comparable product is available from sources in the United States and / or third countries,” according to USTR instructions.

Applicants must also claim that the tariffs would cause “serious economic damage” to their organization or the United States in general, and ensure that the product in question is not part of a Chinese government-owned industrial initiative.

“It’s bureaucratic sluggishness,” said Moore. “People focus on other things,” he added, pointing out that hospitals and medical care distributors are operating in crisis mode and lack the resources available to meet the administrative requirements of the request process.

“This kind of comment is just too cumbersome,” said Pinkert. “If the goal is to achieve this very quickly, I believe that public health experts should say what are the areas where there is a need, what are the areas of deficiency … This is a moving target.”

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