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3M says Trump halting mask exports to Canada has ‘significant humanitarian implications’

Manufacturing giant 3M says the White House has requested it cease exports of U.S.-made N95 face masks to Canada.

“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,” 3M said in a statement released Friday.

The statement comes hours after U.S. President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act requiring companies to prioritize the production of masks and ventilators to fight the spread of COVID-19.

“We anticipate issuing more orders under the Defense Protection Act in the very near future, in addition to the one that I just signed against 3M for face masks,” said Trump on Thursday evening.

But 3M warns that ceasing those exports could cause blowback.

“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.”

Trump hinted at the move in a tweet published Thursday.

3M in response said it continues 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.”

Responding to the news on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would be a “mistake” to restrict the mutually beneficial free flow of essential goods and services across the Canada-U.S. border.

“There is much trade that goes back and forth in essential services and it could hurt Americans as much as it hurts anybody else. That is the point we’re making very directly and have been making for many days to various levels of the American administration and that message is getting through,” Trudeau said during his daily press briefing in Ottaw

He did not comment on whether the federal government is considering imposing retaliatory measures, instead stating that the two countries are in constant communication about ensuring healthcare workers on both sides of the border have the necessary supplies.

“I am confident that the close and deep relationship between Canada and the U.S. will hold strong and that we will not have to see interruptions in supply chains in either direction,” he said.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu this week acknowledged that, heading into the crisis, Canada did not have enough personal protective equipment including N95 masks. The government said it’s now accelerating the procurement of these supplies.

The government announced a shipment of more than 11 million masks this week alone.

3M Canada’s operations currently do not manufacture N95 respirators but the company says they doubled the amount brought into the country in the first three months of 2020.

“We are doing all we can to continue to increase the supply of N95 respirators in Canada to support our healthcare workers, first responders, and those in critical infrastructure roles,” 3M Canada President Penny Wise says in a statement published online.

Trudeau said Friday he remains “confident” Canada will get the supplies needed for healthcare workers, whether from domestic or international suppliers.

“We’ve seen a number of Canadian companies stepping up their productions which will be flowing soon. We’re also receiving more shipments from around the world. We will do everything we can to ensure that no part of Canada goes without essential supplies in facing this pandemic.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also weighed in, first on Twitter and then during his Friday press briefing when he unveiled specifics about the province’s COVID-19 modelling.

Ford said he shared his disappointment about the order with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer today and said in the future, Ontario will take matters into its own hands.

“I can’t stress how disappointed I am with President Trump for making this decision. I understand he’s thinking I’ve got to take care of my own people, but we’re connected,” said Ford.

“I’m not going to rely on President Trump, I’m not going to rely on any prime minister or president or any country ever again. Our manufacturing, we’re gearing up and when those assemblies start, we’re aren’t going to stop them,” said Ford speaking to reporters.

In an interview on CNBC on Friday, 3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman stressed the importance of the company’s continued efforts to meet the global demand of health supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Canada and Latin America.

“It’s part of our strategy, we have excess capacity to bring online. This COVID fight is like nothing we’ve seen, the demand is so much greater so we’re trying to do everything we can to bring capacity in the U.S. while we still serve Canada and Latin America where we are often the sole supplier,” said Roman.

“It becomes a humanitarian issue that we have to try to balance.”