SPEAK UP: Save Lives and Build Our Economy by Bringing Home Production of PPE
February 20, 2024

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States faced a stark reality: our dependence on foreign manufacturers for personal protective equipment (PPE) left us vulnerable. When China restricted exports due to its own shortages, U.S. stockpiles dwindled, and prices soared as federal officials, governors, and healthcare systems scrambled for the remaining limited supply. The wake-up call underscored the urgent need to bolster our domestic PPE production.

This is an issue of rare bipartisan agreement.  The Administration is considering extending tariffs on PPE made in China and elsewhere. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told the Associated Press, “All this stuff should be made in the United States and not in China.”

These leaders show that action is required and tariffs are an easy and commonplace place to start. And our voices are needed today more than ever.

The path to domestic resilience has been fraught with challenges. Manufacturers that stepped up to produce PPE domestically encountered logistical hurdles, regulatory rejections, decreased demand, and fierce price competition from foreign suppliers.

While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved 30 new manufacturers to make N95 masks during the pandemic, the process proved time-consuming and led to setbacks. The struggle to obtain equipment, materials, and regulatory approval has left many manufacturers “dead in the water” despite their efforts.

Cheaper foreign alternatives have further hindered U.S. companies. Ohio awarded $20.8 million to 73 businesses for pandemic-related supplies, but more than a third of them no longer produced PPE by the end of 2021.

The lesson is clear: resilience requires initial production and sustained commitment. We must treat PPE manufacturers like our defense industry—entering into long-term contracts to maintain and replenish stockpiles for future pandemics and emergencies while holding the line against cheap, foreign imports that promote dependency.

There must be a long-term plan for supporting the Domestic PPE industry. The time for action is now. And we are facing bad actors who use commercial workarounds to avoid tariffs and compete unfairly.

Unfortunately, The USTR has moved to extend 352 reinstated exclusions and 77 COVID-related exclusions on goods from China. Initially set to expire on December 31, the exemptions were extended until May 31.

We invite all stakeholders—manufacturers, policymakers, healthcare professionals, and concerned citizens—to actively engage in this critical dialogue. The public portal for comments on these exclusions will close on February 21, 2024. We urge you all to participate in this process to support domestic manufacturing and American resilience.

(Leaders and the public are encouraged to submit their comments at https://comments.ustr.gov/s/)