Critical medical equipment bound for US is stranded in China due to new Chinese red tape

Andrew Kerr, DCNFDCNF

Large quantities of face masks, coronavirus testing kits and other critical medical equipment manufactured in China by American companies are stranded in China due to new export restrictions.

The U.S.-bound medical goods needed to fight the pandemic are collecting dust in Chinese warehouses awaiting official clearances from the Chinese government, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday citing businesses and U.S. diplomatic memos.

One State Department memo reviewed by The Journal reported that 1.4 million coronavirus testing kits manufactured by Massachussets-based PerkinElmer Inc. are sitting in a factory in Suzhou because they lack certification spelled out by the new Chinese rules.

Minnesota-based face mask manufacturer 3M was told by a Shanghai vice mayor that the city “relies on 3M’s locally produced N-95 respirators for its COVID-19 prevention efforts and lacks viable alternatives,” another State Department momo said, adding that the vice mayor “signaled that lifting restrictions on distribution of the company’s masks would require instructions from Beijing.”

3M said it has received fewer shipments from China than it was prior to when the new restrictions were implemented.

Chinese officials said the new export restrictions instituted in April are a quality-control measure intended to ensure medical products exported from the country are up to snuff.

But a State Department memo reviewed by The Journal said the new restrictions have “disrupted established supply chains for medical products just as these products were most needed for the global response to COVID-19.”

Over half of the world’s supply of surgical masks were manufactured in China before the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan in late 2019, and production in the country has since expanded nearly 12-fold, The New York Times reported.

“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,” said the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in March that the coronavirus crisis has shown that the U.S. is too dependent on medical imports from overseas.

“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,” Lighthizer said. “For the United States, we are encouraging diversification of supply chains and seeking to promote more manufacturing at home.”

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