US Removes Tariffs on Face Masks and Other Medical Supplies From China

March 7, 2020 Updated: March 8, 2020

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has granted tariff exclusions for face masks and other medical supplies imported from China.

Applications from 27 companies were approved, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Data from the USTR shows the relief was granted to products including surgical drapes, examination gloves, sanitization products, isolation gowns, and some other products.

Medline Industries Inc., one of the applicants, said in the application form that there is currently a critical shortage of face masks due to the coronavirus outbreak.

At the same time, there are a very limited number of face mask manufacturers in the United States that can produce FDA-approved face masks, and supplies from other countries are not sufficient to replace imports from China.

Shifting supply for face masks will take at least 28 months, the company said.

One USTR document (pdf) shows that the application from Medline for face masks was granted by the USTR on March 5.

The USTR didn’t respond to an email requesting comment at the time of publication.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) urged USTR to remove tariffs from medical supplies critical to the coronavirus response on Feb. 28.

“To ensure that the United States is prepared to contain and combat the spread of this outbreak, it is crucial that there is a robust supply of critical medical products like gloves, thermometers, and medical caps,” Gardner said in a statement on March 6. “I applaud USTR for following through on my request to remove tariffs on these items to address medical supply chain concerns and public health demands.”

However, one company granted tariff relief said the move only has economic implications, but will not change the supply chain pressure following the coronavirus outbreak.

“This tariff piece is more of an economic piece within the supply chain,” Ron Prybella, spokesman for Medegen Medical Products of Hauppauge in New York told The Wall Street Journal. Medegen was granted 16 tariff exclusions by USTR.

The Trump administration implemented several measures to increase medical supplies to health care workers and to encourage the production of respiratory protective devices.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an emergency use authorization (EUA) request from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 2 to allow health care personnel to use certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved respirators—which are not currently regulated by the FDA—during the coronavirus outbreak.

Two days after the FDA’s decision, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that they intend to purchase 500 million N95 respirators over the next 18 months for the Strategic National Stockpile.

“Through guaranteed orders, this acquisition encourages manufacturers to immediately increase the production of N95s for use by health care professionals. These guaranteed orders offer reassurance to manufacturers that they will not be left with excess supplies if private sector orders are cancelled once the COVID-19 response subsides. Manufacturers typically avoid ramping up production without such a guarantee,” the HHS said in a statement.