French mask makers seek post-pandemic protection

Emmanuel Nizard's startup "Le Masque Francais" churns out 1 million face masks per week.

And counts President Macron as a client.

Many Western governments were caught out at the start of the pandemic, when they had to scramble to import masks from Asia.

Now Nizard has told Reuters that the industry could be left fighting for survival once demand falls.

And he wants to know how the government will shield him from cheap imports after the crisis subsides:

"Today, a French manufacturer could produce a mask that will cost him or her between 8 and 12 cents," Nizard says.

"I would even say that in reality, it costs 10 cents. A French company that imports masks from China will win because they will sell it for less than 4 cents."

France suffered acute shortages of protective gear when the virus first tore across the country last spring.

Macron made a plea for France to get making the equipment it needed.

The number of mask manufacturers in France has since risen five-fold to 20.

Nizard bet 2 million euros on ramping up his production.

But industry officials say four in every five masks were still imported from China, and buyers needed to be given a reason to purchase locally.

Some manufacturers are calling for cheap imports to be taxed more.

The government is thought to be planning to alter the formulation of tenders.

That would mean buyers such as public hospitals would not just consider unit price but also environmental cost and implications for supply security.

An official familiar with the talks between government and mask manufacturers confirmed the strategy.

Adding that the target was to produce 40 million masks per week in France once the pandemic was over, compared with 100 million now.

But mask makers say there's no way they will all survive.