Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that 3M has been asked to stop supplying N95 respirators to Canada.
U.S.-based company 3M said Friday that it has been asked by the Trump administration not to supply N95 respirators to Canada amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the Minnesota-based company to produce and sell as many medical-grade masks as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says it needs. He invoked the Defence Production Act in order to speed up the distribution of masks.
“The administration also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets,” a statement from the company read.
The company said the move raised “humanitarian” concerns.
“There are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to health-care workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators,” the statement added.
The statement also warned that limiting supply to other countries could lead to them “retaliating” with similar measures.
“If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek,” the company said.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the news, saying the government is in close contact with U.S. officials on the issue.
“We are discussing very closely with the United States the importance of keeping the flow of essential goods and services across our border to help both countries,” Trudeau said. “I am confident that the close and deep relationship between Canada and the U.S. will hold strong and we will not have to see interruptions in supply chain in either directions.”
Trudeau said he hopes to avoid a scenario where Canada is forced to retaliate against U.S. measures.
“It would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back and forth trade of essential goods and services, including medical goods across our border,” he added.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also spoke out against Trump’s decision on Friday, saying he expressed his disappointment in a phone call with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
“We’re the closest trading partners anywhere in the world, if you look at ourselves, Canada and the U.S., we are connected at the hip,” Ford told reporters.
“I just can’t stress how disappointed I am with President Trump for making this decision.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called the move “reckless,” while British Columbia’s Health Minister Adrian Dix said it’s important for the two countries to work together and not go “tit-for-tat” over supplies.
“This is our fight together,” Dix said. “We need to convince our American friends in the first instance that this action is wrong, it’s wrong for them and wrong for us, and lets try and move forward together.”
Later Friday afternoon, Trump said in a news conference that he will be using the Defense Production Act to ban the export of “critical medical items,” such as facemasks and gloves, by “unscrupulous actors.”
A White House statement said “wartime profiteers” hoard and export much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE), which can lead to price-gouging. While some exist in the “dark corners of the market,” they also include “some well-established PPE distributors with the ability to unscrupulously divert PPE inventories from domestic customers … to foreign purchasers willing to pay significant premiums,” according to the White House.
3M wasn’t named in the statement, which ended by saying that nothing in the order will interfere with the ability of PPE manufacturers to export “when doing so is consistent with United States policy and in the national interest of the United States.”
Demand for personal protective equipment — gloves, gowns, face shields and the all-important N95 masks — has been soaring around the world as overtaxed doctors, nurses and hospitals struggle to manage the spike in coronavirus cases while protecting themselves from infection.
On Thursday, 3M was singled out for criticism by Trump.
“We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks,” Trump tweeted. “‘P Act’ all the way. Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing – will have a big price to pay!”
3M CEO Mike Roman said earlier this week that the company is working closely with FEMA and is on track to double global production of N95 masks to two billion a year in 12 months.
Roman said 3M will boost production by 40 per cent to 50 million masks per month in about 60 days.
“The narrative that we aren’t doing everything we can as a company is just not true,” Roman told CNBC television in an interview on Friday.
In an email statement provided to Global News, 3M Canada said its “primary concern” is the safety of health-care workers, first responders and its employees.
“We are currently reviewing the specific details of the executive memorandum and looking at every possible way to meet domestic needs for Canada,” the statement said.
— With files from the Canadian Press, the Associated Press and Reuters