The domestic industry’s woes extend beyond the consumer mask market. In recent months, the medical suppliers serving the country’s major hospital systems have eagerly resumed purchasing cheaper protective equipment from abroad.
The companies, including McKesson, Henry Schein and Cardinal Health, have lobbied the Biden administration to maintain a tariff exemption on imported protective equipment introduced earlier in the pandemic. Those pushing for the continued tax exemption on Chinese masks, including the American Hospital Association, say domestic manufacturers are unable to meet the still-rising demand for single-use respirators and other protective equipment.
Opponents strongly disagree, noting that many US companies have struggled to find institutional buyers as hospital systems increasingly turn to Chinese imports. The price difference is often a few cents per mask – enough to swing cost consciously large consumers.
In a letter they sent to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in October, a dozen Senate Democrats labeled the issue a national security issue. “Instead of helping China-made products, we must invest in and support our domestic manufacturers so that they are able to provide U.S. health systems and other essential workers with the high-quality personal protective equipment and essential supplies they need to sustain the to control Covid-19. pandemic and prepare for future public health threats,” they wrote.
A spokesman for Ms. Tai’s office said the tariffs would be reintroduced from Nov. 30.
Company executives said they were encouraged by the language in the new infrastructure law that strengthens existing rules requiring federal agencies to purchase domestically-made medical equipment.
But government spending alone isn’t likely to save many of the companies whose sales have plummeted due to the resurgence of Chinese imports, according to the American Mask Manufacturers Association. Which almost half of the group’s 25 members have stopped making masks in recent months.
“We’re holding onto precious life right now, but the deck is really stacked against us,” said Brian Wolin, the chief executive of Protective Health Gear, an N95 startup in Paterson, NJ, which last summer rushed to hire dozens of people. to be re-employed. of employees who were laid off in the months before the arrival of the Delta variant, which led to an increase in sales.