3M Refuses White House Directive to Send Masks from Singapore to U.S., Citing Concern for Asian Medical Workers

Zachary Evans

Health care manufacturer 3M has resisted pressure from the White House to import about 10 million N95 respirator masks from the company’s hub in Singapore originally destined for Asian countries, in part due to concern for health care workers in those countries, the Financial Times reported on Friday.

While 3M agreed to import a similar amount from a factory in China, President Trump and his administration have criticized the company for being less than cooperative with the mobilization effort — and Trump announced he would invoke the Defense Production Act to compel 3M to deliver masks to the U.S.

“The administration had worked very hard to ease some rules for 3M and other respirator manufacturers because those companies, 3M chief among them, had essentially promised that they would immediately be putting 35m N95s into the US marketplace. It became clear recently that wasn’t happening,” one White House official told the Financial Times.

“We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks,” Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday night. “‘P Act’ all the way. Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing – will have a big price to pay!”

Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro, who also serves as the Defense Production Act coordinator for the White House, criticized 3M earlier on Thursday.

“To be frank, over the last several days we’ve had some issues, making sure that all of the production that 3M does around the world, enough of it is coming back here to the right places,” Navarro said.

On Friday, 3M CEO Mike Roman countered that the company was concentrating all its efforts to help fight the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

“The idea that the 3M isn’t doing everything it can…is absurd,” Roman said on CNBC. “We are doing everything we can to maximize our efforts.”

In earlier stages of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Trump was initially reluctant to rely on the DPA, which allows the executive branch to compel companies to produce goods in times of national emergency. However, on March 27 Trump used the legislation to order General Motors to begin production of ventilators, saying negotiations over contracts with the company had dragged on too long.

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course” Trump said at the time. “GM was wasting time.”

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