(USA Features) The Trump administration on Saturday removed tariffs it had placed on medical face masks and other healthcare equipment and protective devices that are made in China in order to speed delivery of those items to the U.S. as the coronavirus spreads.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) granted waivers to 27 companies that had applied, according to The Wall Street Journal, which added that information from the agency shows the relief was granted to products including surgical drapes, examination gloves, sanitization products, isolation gowns, and some other products.
Medline Industries Inc., one of the firms requesting the waivers, said in its application that there are current critical shortages of face masks due to the so-far limited outbreak.
At the same time, The Epoch Times reported, there are only a few companies in the U.S. that produce the FDA-approved masks. Also, supplies from other countries are not enough to replace the volume of items produced by China, which is said to be recovering from the outbreak that originated there.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) urged the trade office to lift tariffs from medical supplies critical to the coronavirus response late last month.
“To ensure that the United States is prepared to contain and combat the spread of this outbreak, it is crucial that there is a robust supply of critical medical products like gloves, thermometers, and medical caps,” Gardner said in a statement on March 6.
“I applaud USTR for following through on my request to remove tariffs on these items to address medical supply chain concerns and public health demands.”
Some suppliers said the lifting of sanctions would have more of a financial impact rather than any bearing on supply chain shortages currently underway due to outbreak-related production cuts in China.
The administration has also made additional policy changes in order to make more supplies available, especially to the nation’s healthcare workers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an emergency use authorization (EUA) request from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention March 2 so that health care personnel could use certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved respirators—which are not currently regulated by the FDA—during the outbreak.
Two days later, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that they intend to purchase 500 million N95 respirators over the next 18 months for the Strategic National Stockpile, The Epoch Times reported.
“Through guaranteed orders, this acquisition encourages manufacturers to immediately increase the production of N95s for use by health care professionals. These guaranteed orders offer reassurance to manufacturers that they will not be left with excess supplies if private sector orders are cancelled once the COVID-19 response subsides. Manufacturers typically avoid ramping up production without such a guarantee,” the HHS said in a statement.