Trump has announced that 3M producing masks intended to be exported to Canada and Latin America will not be distributed as planned according to contract (CNBC). N95 masks that have been touted as the ‘gold standard of protective gear’ are being treated as scarcely as gold itself, and ventilators these days are beyond priceless (NPR, 2020). Citing the Defense Production Act (DPA), President Trump is backing out on pre-negotiated trade deals with its neighbors and angering domestic industrial giants as he does so. While 3M and others gladly rose to the call for increased production in the midst of the crisis, they balked at orders from the top to “cease exporting made-in-the-USA respirators to Canada and to Latin America” (CNN).
Who does the export restriction harm?
Export restrictions come at the cost of maimed imports and an overall net decrease of available respirators. Even when stripping the situation of all moral, humanitarian, economic, and diplomatic cost factors that could and should be accounted at a moment of international crisis, there is no pragmatic purpose or clear benefit to limiting these promised exports to US neighbors and allies.
The export restriction presents a lose-lose scenario in which the retention of masks in the US will not only limit America’s neighbors from accessing preventative measures but will also undermine the United States’ capacity to handle the most severe cases of the pandemic which are already proliferating throughout the country.
Alongside severe humanitarian implications, this application of the “America First” stance is very likely to damage the United States, particularly when Trump realizes that by violating contracts with his neighbors, he is also throwing salt in the eyes of those whom the US relies upon for the import of vital medical devices --- such as ventilators.
Which US companies are increasing their production of masks?
Leading N95 mask manufacturers have not only been increasing production by all means possible but have also actively campaigned against illicit products and price hike. According to Attorney General Barr, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Attorney General Fox:
“On behalf of 3M and our 96,000 employees worldwide, I would like to offer our support to you as you protect the public from counterfeiting and price-gouging with respect to critical medical devices, including the respirators and masks that are critical to our country’s medical personnel. This pandemic is affecting us all. 3M is doing all that it can to support public health and those impacted by this global health crisis. We are mobilizing all available resources and rapidly increasing output of critical supplies healthcare workers in the United States and around the world need to help protect their lives as they treat others.” (CEO: 3M Supports World to curb Pandemic Profiteers).
3M has more than doubled the production of masks to almost 100 million per month in March alone (Market Watch). Alongside these efforts, other companies such as Ford, GM, GE, and Tesla have also diverted great amounts of resources for the production of N95 surgical masks. They went from producing 0 to 50,000 masks a day (TechCrunch) with seven days of preparation. Within the next two weeks, they claim to have set in place strict protocols that will allow them to begin the producing ventilators (GM Corporate Newsroom).
In sum, the discrepancy between medical equipment is the need for such equipment is not one that the American people are already not striving to meet. Communities throughout the country have rallied to combat the crisis with such strength that President Trump is not only insulting his neighbors by disallowing promised exports but his own people’s efforts as well. The net result is, once again, domestic and international contempt for “America First.”