US Needs to Reduce Dependence on Chinese Drug Supplies, Says White House Trade Advisor

February 12, 2020 Updated: February 12, 2020
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The fallout from the coronavirus (officially known as COVID-19) outbreak is a “wake-up call” for the United States to reduce its dependence on pharmaceutical imports from China and elsewhere, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro said on Feb. 12.

Navarro, in an interview with The Financial Times, said the United States needs to examine its reliance on imported medical equipment, supplies, and drugs, as the outbreak disrupts the pharmaceutical industry’s global supply chain that is largely dependent on China.

“This is a wake-up call for an issue that has been latent for many years but is critical to U.S. economic and national security,” Navarro told the outlet.

“If we have learned anything from the coronavirus and swine flu H1N1 epidemic of 2009, it is that we cannot necessarily depend on other countries, even close allies, to supply us with needed items, from face masks to vaccines,” he added.

To contain the virus, many local governments in China have halted factory activities, impacting the pharmaceutical and other industries. At the same time, the country is facing shortages of medical supplies and equipment needed to treat and test for the virus.

China is the world’s largest producer of ingredients used to make drugs. The United States is heavily dependent on either drugs that are sourced from China, or drugs made from ingredients manufactured in China.

“What we need to do is think about how we can get our pharmaceutical production back onshore and cheap,” Navarro said in a Tuesday interview on Fox Business.

The United States should also cut back its dependence on other countries, Navarro noted, adding that during the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, the United States had trouble obtaining supplies from Australia, Canada, and the UK.

Navarro told The Financial Times that the Trump administration’s policy is to “buy American,” so “the question is why aren’t we fully applying this principle to medical supplies like N-95 masks, medical equipment like ventilators, and pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics.”

He added that the administration is currently “looking very closely at this [issue].

“By onshoring more of our pharmaceutical supply chain, it will not only be more resilient. It will offer important opportunities to reduce drug prices through the rapid adoption of cutting-edge advanced manufacturing processes.”

U.S. lawmakers have also questioned the impact of the virus on U.S. drug supplies.

Last week, senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wrote to Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, asking if the agency had the “necessary tools to ensure the safety and supply of pharmaceuticals, food, and medical supplies imported from China.”

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