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Mask confusion: White House chides 3M

Manufacturer defends its efforts to distribute safety equipment in the U.S.

BY HBSDealer Staff

After receiving criticism from the White House for not doing enough to bring safety masks to Americans who need them, 3M issued a vigorous defense, saying it has “gone above and beyond to manufacture as many N95 respirators as possible for the U.S. market.”

A dispute between the Trump Administration and the Minnesota-based manufacturer erupted Thursday over the extent to which the global manufacturer prioritizes the U.S., and over 3M’s agreements to supply Canada and Latin America with personal protective equipment (PPE).

The President banned the export of PPE — a move made possible by the Defense Protection Act, which he invoked. Such a ban was described by 3M as potentially counter-productive for U.S. health workers, and also a move with “significant humanitarian implications” for health workers in Canada and Latin America

“We’re not happy with 3M,” said Trump during a Friday press conference. “We’re not at all happy with 3M. And the people who dealt with it directly are not happy with 3M.”

That statement is a far cry from statement’s made March 5 by Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to 3M’s Minneapolis headquarters. Pence said he was grateful for 3Ms early moves at the outset of the outbreak. “3M made the decision, literally, to go to full capacity here in the United States in the production of the respiratory masks, the N95 masks that you create with such professionalism,” Pence said.

On Friday, the White House statement on issuing the export ban included the following:

“America is at war against an invisible enemy.  Unfortunately, the outbreak of the virus has led to wartime profiteering by unscrupulous brokers, distributors, and other intermediaries operating in secondary markets.  This wartime profiteering is leading to hoarding and soaring prices for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, and N-95 respirators, all of which are needed to protect American citizens, including our heroic healthcare professionals, battling on the front lines.”

The Minnesota company manufacturers respirators and sells them to a network of distributors. The distributors sell to end users. In a CNBC interview Friday, 3M CEO Mike Roman said that as the outbreak escalated in late February, 3M instructed its distributors to prioritize health care.

Still, in early April, hospitals in the U.S. are reporting serious shortages of PPE.

The Minnesota-based company released the following statement on Friday:

“Over the last several weeks and months, 3M and its employees have gone above and beyond to manufacture as many N95 respirators as possible for the U.S. market. Yesterday, the Administration formally invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to require 3M to prioritize orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for our N95 respirators.

“We have been working closely with the Administration to do exactly that, and we appreciate the authorities in the DPA that provide a framework for us to expand even further the work we are doing in response to the global pandemic crisis. We look forward to working with FEMA to implement yesterday’s order.

“In the course of our collaboration with the Administration this past weekend, the Administration requested that 3M increase the amount of respirators we currently import from our overseas operations into the U.S. We appreciate the assistance of the Administration to do exactly that. For example, earlier this week, we secured approval from China to export to the U.S. 10 million N95 respirators manufactured by 3M in China.

“The Administration also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets. There are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators. In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. 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.

“We also continue to act on reports of price gouging and unauthorized reselling related to 3M respirators. This activity is unethical and illegal. We are working with the U.S. Attorney General and attorneys general of every state, making it clear that 3M has not and will not raise prices for respirators and offering our assistance in the fight.

“We look forward to working closely with the Administration to implement yesterday’s DPA order. We will continue to maximize the amount of respirators we can produce on behalf of U.S. healthcare workers, as we have every single day since this crisis began.”

The disagreement comes just days after 3M appeared on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, along with the headline: “How 3M doubled N95 mask production practically overnight.”

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