WASHINGTON – Warning that the United States should not rely on other countries to supply needed medicines, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday requiring the federal government to purchase certain drugs from American manufacturers rather than from overseas companies.
"We cannot rely on China and other nations across the globe that could one day deny us products at a time of need," Trump said. "We can't do it. We have to be smart."
The order, which Trump signed while visiting a Whirlpool manufacturing plant in Clyde, Ohio, instructs the government to develop a list of "essential" medicines, then buy them and other medical supplies from U.S. manufacturers instead of from companies around the world.
The order removes regulatory barriers that the Trump administration said give pharmaceutical manufacturers in other countries an unfair competitive advantage over U.S. companies.
Trump’s trip to Ohio is the latest in a series of visits to states likely to be pivotal in November’s election. He faces criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 159,000 Americans.
Trump carried Ohio in the 2016 election by 8 percentage points, but polls show presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a slight edge in the Buckeye State heading into the fall election.
Absent during Trump's visit was Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who had planned to accompany the president but stayed away after he tested positive for coronavirus Thursday.
DeWine took a COVID-19 test as part of the protocol to meet Trump on the tarmac at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. The governor has no symptoms but plans to quarantine at his home in Cedarville for the next 14 days.
During his visit to northern Ohio, Trump toured the Whirlpool factory and highlighted his efforts to boost the nation’s manufacturers, including trade agreements that he said drive job creation and manufacturing across the country.
In remarks that at times sounded like a campaign speech, Trump accused his predecessors, President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden, of allowing the dumping of low-cost, foreign-made products into the American market at the expense of U.S. companies.
"They didn't act," he said. "They didn't care, and they never will."
Trump said his decision to impose a 50% tariff on foreign-made washing machines two years ago helped turn Whirlpool around in the face of unfair competition. Whirlpool, which employs roughly 3,400 people at its northern Ohio factory, credited the tariffs with leveling the playing field and enabling it to add 200 jobs at the plant.
On the issue of pharmaceuticals, Trump said his new executive order will protect the nation’s drug supply and ensure Americans have access to essential drugs and other medical supplies.
Critics have charged that the administration was woefully unprepared for the coronavirus and that a breakdown in supply chains left the United States without enough tests and protective equipment to fight the disease early in the pandemic.
Trump said he wants to prepare for future pandemics by replenishing the national stockpile and bringing manufacturing of critical supplies and equipment back to the USA.
About 72% of manufacturers that supply pharmaceutical ingredients to the USA are overseas, and 13% of them are in China, Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told a congressional panel last October. Tensions between the United States and China are at a peak, not only over the coronavirus but also trade and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
"President Trump understands Ohioans and Americans across the country must have access to lifesaving medications, particularly as we fight this battle against the invisible enemy from China," said Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.
Navarro said the order "establishes Buy American rules for our government agencies, strips away regulatory barriers to domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing" and serves as a catalyst for manufacturing technologies needed to keep drug prices low and medicine production onshore.
"We're dangerously over-dependent on foreign nations for essential medicines, for medical supplies like masks, gloves, goggles and medical equipment like ventilators," Navarro said.
Last week, Trump announced a deal with Eastman Kodak to manufacture pharmaceuticals. The administration plans to give the camera company a $765 million loan to launch a pharmaceuticals division.
The loan from the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. is the first of its kind under the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that allows the government to direct private industry to produce weapons, vehicles and other materiel for war and emergencies.
The order that Trump signed Thursday directs the Department of Health and Human Services to use the Defense Production Act to procure essential medicines and other equipment from the USA, but it does not stipulate precisely which drugs would fall under the requirements.
The World Health Organization maintains a list of essential medicines that includes more than 400 drugs. Because of its location, the United States won't need to declare some of them essential, such as anti-malaria drugs, Navarro said.
The order aims to speed up the permitting process for domestic manufacturers of pharmaceutical ingredients and essential medicines by directing the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to give them priority during the regulatory review process.
Navarro said the order would remove some of the regulatory barriers that put U.S. manufacturers of drugs and medical supplies at a competitive disadvantage.
For example, "the FDA can walk into any pharmaceutical manufacturer in the U.S. unannounced and inspect," Navarro said. "If they try to do that in China or India, these governments will tell them come back in six months and maybe we'll let you in. And we let them get away with that. That's not going to happen anymore."
The White House said the order will help prevent the trafficking of counterfeit medicines from third-party online sellers involved in the government procurement process.
Trump is scheduled to attend a campaign fundraiser in the Cleveland area while he's in Ohio.
Contributing: Jackie Borchardt of The Cincinnati Enquirer
Michael Collins covers the White House. Reach him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump in Ohio: President orders 'essential' drugs be made in USA