3M announced late on Monday it has reached a deal with President Donald Trump’s administration to import 166.5 million N95 respirator masks to the United States over the next three months to support hospital workers.
The new strategy allows both the company and the White House to enact an emergency supply plan that achieves the needs of the United States without creating dire humanitarian consequences for other countries engaged in the same battle against COVID-19.
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This agreement specifically allows 3M to continue exporting US-manufactured respirators to Canada and Latin America, which depend on the company as their primary source of supply. To achieve this, the White House will address and remove its days-old enacted export and regulatory restrictions that prevented 3M from exporting to America’s neighbours to the north and south.
The forthcoming surge in 3M respirators will be mainly produced by the company’s manufacturing facility in China, beginning this month.
Both 3M and the US government will also collaborate to prevent price gouging and counterfeiting.
“We share the same goals of providing much-needed respirators to Americans across our country and combating criminals who seek to take advantage of the current crisis. These imports will supplement the 35 million N95 respirators we currently produce per month in the United States,” said Mike Roman, chairman and CEO of 3M, in a statement.
“Given the reality that demand for respirators outpaces supply, we are working around the clock to further expand our capacity, while prioritizing and redirecting our supplies to serve the most critical areas.”
Last week, the White House specifically requested 3M to stop exporting respirators currently manufactured in the US to Canadian and Latin American markets, with Trump tweeting he “hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their masks.”
The company responded to this request in a news release by stating there would be “significant humanitarian implications” of halting respirator supplies to healthcare workers in these markets.
There were dire concerns from Canadian officials over what the 3M export ban would mean for frontline healthcare workers over the coming days and weeks, and the potential strategic shift the country would need to secure its personal protective equipment supply chains.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend highlighted that trade flows both ways across the Canada-US border, specifically noting the essential medical supplies that are exported from Canada to the US. He said he would not take any retaliatory measures, but would instead speak with Trump directly.
Several Premiers also weighed in on the situation.
“If I had a chance to speak to President Trump, I would remind him about Canada’s solidarity following 9/11, and in the global fight against terrorism,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Friday.
“It also underscores why we must produce our own critical equipment here at home, because apparently we can’t even count on our closest friend and ally to be a supplier.”
And on Monday morning, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province’s supplies were reaching “low.”
He said about four million masks were made through two orders to 3M, and were reportedly stopped by US officials. Of that, he said just 500,095 respirators that were released from the original 3M shipment would reach Ontario.
3M says its manufacturing operations around the world serve different local and regional markets. Since January, when the coronavirus outbreak quickly grew, it increased its production of N95 respirators, effectively doubling its global output to 1.1 billion masks per year, including 35 million per month in the US.
The company has made additional investments and actions that will allow it to double tis capacity again to two billion masks globally within 12 months, with additional capacity to begin coming online over the next 60 to 90 days.
Within the US, 3M will produce the respirators at a rate of 50 million per month in June, which is a 40% increase from today’s levels.
With files from Clarrie Feinstein, Chandler Walter, and Tyler Jadah.