American companies have seen their shipments of coronavirus medical equipment, such as face masks and test kits, stranded in China after the country implemented new export restrictions this month.
The shipments of personal protective equipment and other medical equipment currently remain in warehouses in China, unable to obtain the new clearances required to be shipped out of the country.
About 1.4 million coronavirus test kits made by Massachusetts-based PerkinElmer are not able to leave the company’s Suzhou factory under the new restrictions, according to a State Department document obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
The document also noted that Minnesota-based 3M was told by a Shanghai vice mayor that Shanghai “relies on 3M’s locally produced N-95 respirators for its Covid-19 prevention efforts and lacks viable alternatives.” Lifting the restrictions would require permission from the upper echelons of the Chinese government, the mayor indicated, according to the State Department.
General Electric was able to extract its shipment of parts needed to make ventilators after days of negotiations. Other companies, however, have not been able to do the same. Healthcare logistics company Owens & Minor, hospital operator Emory Healthcare, and biotech company Cellex have been unable to ship their medical equipment, which includes N95 face masks, isolation gowns, and coronavirus antibody tests.
China’s rules governing exports “disrupted established supply chains for medical products just as these products were most needed for the global response to Covid-19,” one of the State Department documents said. Beijing has said the rules were meant to ensure quality control of medical products and to prevent necessary items from leaving China
“Countries across the world are all hunting for medical supplies, causing a big challenge for China’s efforts of quality control and regulation of export,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington said.
U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad said Wednesday that he does not believe China is intentionally blocking exports to the U.S. of medical supplies required to fight the pandemic.
“Yes, they want to enforce their laws and regulations,” the ambassador said. “We’re trying to say let’s use some common sense in doing this, and if it’s Food and Drug Administration approved and companies like 3M have already been shipping these things to the United States, it doesn’t make sense to hold them up when we feel confident that it meets the quality requirements that we have.”
U.S. officials have criticized U.S. dependence on Chinese supply chains for medical products as the coronavirus outbreak has caused shortages of desperately needed medical equipment in hospitals across the country.
“Unfortunately, like others, we are learning in this crisis that over-dependence on other countries as a source of cheap medical products and supplies has created a strategic vulnerability to our economy,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said early this month.