White House trade adviser and arch-protectionist ideologue Peter Navarro is trying to include buy-American provisions in the Trump administration’s coronavirus relief package that could disrupt the medical supply chain while the U.S. is already ill-prepared for a projected surge in cases, the Daily Beast reported on Thursday.
The Beast reviewed a draft order of Navarro’s proposal, which it reported was being prepared “with the president’s explicit sign-off.” Titled “Combat Public Health Emergencies and Strengthen the National Defense by Ensuring Made in America Essential Medicines and Medical Countermeasures,” the draft order reportedly allows any executive agencies or departments to procure medical supplies and drugs from “any sources during the COVID-19 outbreak” but “take all possible measures” to “maximize domestic procurement of essential medicines” in the long term.
The order also says the U.S. should “ensure sufficient, stable and reliable long term demand for essential medicines and medical countermeasures through domestic procurement policies,” authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to accelerate regulatory approval for U.S. medicines and subject drugs that are manufactured in another country to FDA standards. According to the Beast, the secretaries of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services would be given a total of 90 days to procure U.S.-made medicine and “promote price competition by dividing production requirements among two or more domestic contractors.”
Beast reporter Erin Banco also tweeted that the order would enable Customs and Border Protection to “deny entry to any imports of essential medicines or medical countermeasures if the facilities in which they are produced refuse, delay or impede an on-demand inspection.”
It’s not clear why Navarro is playing such a big role in planning federal agencies’ response to the pandemic, which has spread to all 50 states, DC, and overseas U.S. territories—beyond the fact that he’s an enthusiastic Trump surrogate who often appears on Fox News and reportedly views the outbreak as an opportunity to reduce dependence on trade with China. Per the New York Times, while the U.S. is highly dependent on China’s role in the medical supply chain, it’s not clear that the framework is yet in place for a major shift to domestic production.
Other administration officials have been alarmed that the order could interfere with the federal government’s ability to handle the coronavirus crisis, according to the Beast. Trade officials were alarmed by a section that proclaims active pharmaceutical components a “critical technology... essential for the execution of the national security strategy of the United States,” while some Cabinet appointees and FDA officials are concerned the order would cut down on foreign medical supplies at the same time that the U.S. is falling far short of domestic demand.
“You can’t instantly flip the switch and have factories start pumping out these goods,” Brookings Institution fellow Geoffrey Gertz told the Beast. “At the moment where there is huge demand from medical goods. You want to source them from as wide a range of suppliers as you can.”