Take a walk through your house or glance around your apartment. I’d bet in just about every room there’s at least one product with a little sticker or stamp reading: ‘Made in China’. From furniture to appliances to shoes to computers just like the one I’m using to write this. China-based products are everywhere.
In some ways this is an aspect of free trade. Globalization. We export certain products such as agricultural commodities. This benefits us. And we import consumer items which benefits other countries.
If we’ve learned one thing from the COVID-19 issue, it’s the tough lesson in learning just how many essential and critical items such as medications, personal protective equipment, and other lifesaving items needed during crises and critical times are made overseas. Of course, many of us buy ‘Made in the USA’ whenever possible. But this spring, we saw first-hand what can happen if the United States depends too heavily on foreign sources for these vital and life-saving products.
As the virus spread, states were clamoring they did not have enough ventilators for their hospitals. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks, gowns, and gloves were in short supply. American entities found themselves purchasing on the international market, competing with other nations with similar massive needs for the same equipment. California purchased almost a billion dollars of PPE from China, and New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft sent a plane there to procure additional supplies.
Unfortunately, when some of these supplies made it back here to the United States, they were discovered to be lackluster and ineffective, and some were even banned from use by health authorities. It was a window into what happens when a country like Communist China has such a monopoly on manufacturing and the global supply. The Chinese Communist Party even made threats to cut off exports of vital drugs to America when our government started asking questions about the origins of COVID-19. To put it simply, it is unacceptable to depend on a country whose communist government produces such lack-luster products and openly threatens to put American lives and health at risk.
As we begin to re-open our economy, we need to find ways to not only bring the manufacturing of these vital items back to the United States, but also to expand the number of facilities producing them or be capable of doing so in a crisis. This will do more than just prepare us for any possible future pandemics. War and violence overseas can disrupt the manufacture or shipment of medications, personal protective equipment, or other vital items. Natural disasters can also cause disruptions; just ask hospitals about the critical shortages of saline solution after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. Ask the thousands of patients who found the prices of their prescription drugs increased due to a sudden slash in manufacturing.
How do we bring production back home? Many companies have moved facilities overseas because of the lower tax corporate tax rates. On a federal level, we need to be willing to provide tax credits or make other necessary changes in the tax code to incentivize companies to move their pharmaceutical and PPE manufacturing back to the United States. My former colleagues and friends Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (WI) have already begun to take action. Their bill, the Protecting our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain from China Act, would incentivize companies to manufacture lifesaving items here at home in the United State, and implement country of origin labels on imported drugs so patients know where their medications are made and come from.
We also need to find ways to ensure these production facilities are then located in geographically diverse locations to ensure no domestic events such as natural disasters disrupt our nation’s access to vital medications and PPE.
The COVID-19 pandemic opened our eyes to many things in our society where we need to examine and make changes. While our eyes are open, I’m ready to lead and get to work on this vital issue. It’s past time to bring manufacturing, especially of life saving medications, protective equipment, and other essential items back to the United States. We have the brightest minds and hardest workers right here at home ready to roll up their sleeps and help. Let’s learn a tough lesson from COVID-19. It’s time to bring it all home.