3M faces pressure from Trump order to stop exporting N95 masks to Canada

3M faces pressure from Trump order to stop exporting N95 masks to Canada

Medical device manufacturer 3M says it is under pressure from the White House to stop exporting N95 masks it currently produces in the United States to other countries, including Canada.

The Minnesota-based company said in a news release Friday that while it welcomes the Trump administration's invocation of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to compel domestic companies to produce critically needed medical infrastructure, it presents some problems, too.

Among other things, the order mandates that 3M stop making N95 masks that are destined for customers in Canada and Latin America, and instead keep them in the U.S.

The DPA, which was passed in 1950, grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security and other reasons. Hockey equipment manufacturers and even fashion houses have been trying to shift their production to start making medical safety equipment, such as gowns and masks, where possible.

Health-care workers around the world are currently facing a desperate shortage of such masks in their fight to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. 

"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 company said in its statement.

In the statement, 3M also warns that any such move could actually backfire on the U.S. and impact the supply of masks and other medical equipment.

"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."

Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the move Friday at his daily briefing outside his residence at Rideau Cottage.

"There is so much trade that goes back and forth in essential services, and it could end up hurting Americans as much as it hurts anybody else," he said. "That is the point that we're making very directly and have been making for many days now to various levels of the American administration — and that message is getting through."

In a statement to CBC News, 3M Canada said it is "aware" of the order, and is reviewing next steps.

"We are currently reviewing the specific details of the executive memorandum and looking at every possible way to meet domestic needs for Canada," 3M Canada said. "We will continue to provide updated information as it becomes available."

The company makes 1.1 billion masks a year worldwide, or about 100 million each month. It does not, however, currently manufacture any in Canada.

Trump proclaimed on Twitter late Thursday evening that he "hit 3M hard" with his move to prioritize masks for Americans.

German politician accuses U.S. of 'Wild West methods'

Canada isn't the only target in the U.S. search for as many masks as possible.

A German politician has accused the U.S. of using "Wild West methods" to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks, after a delivery of face masks destined for the German capital was diverted en route from China.

German media reported Friday that 200,000 masks purchased from manufacturer 3M and intended for Berlin police were diverted to the U.S. as they were being transferred between planes in Thailand.

Andreas Geisel, the interior minister for Berlin state, said the diversion of the masks is "an act of modern piracy." 

"This is no way to treat transatlantic partners," he said. "Even in times of global crisis, there should be no Wild West methods."

In its release, 3M noted that it is in the process of importing 10 million N95 masks into the U.S. that it has made at its facilities in China.

"We look forward to working closely with the administration to implement yesterday's DPA order," 3M said. "We will continue to maximize the amount of respirators we can produce on behalf of U.S. health-care workers, as we have every single day since this crisis began."