Chinese exports to the U.S. of masks, ventilators and other medical goods dropped in early 2020, even as the Chinese government claims it imposed no export restrictions.
U.S. 2020 trade data show declines in U.S. imports of masks, gloves, ventilators, and other medical goods from China. The tables below show the decline in January-March 2020 relative to the same months in 2019. (See Graph below) While seasonal import drops occur each year in these months, the 2020 dip was notably larger.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Chinese exports of critical medical goods arriving in the U.S. in January would have been shipped as usual by sea before the COVID crisis hit China. (Typical sea shipping from China to the U.S. is 30-40 days.) Goods that would have shipped once the COVID crisis was escalating in China for U.S. sales in February and March appear to have been withheld.
Neither a drop in overall U.S. imports of such goods nor the impact of Section 301 tariffs on China explain the declines in these key months. Indeed, there was a strong “trade diversion” effect with growth in imports from other countries of these critical medical goods based on growing U.S. demand. (See Table below.) In fact, U.S. imports in 2019 of all critical medical and pharmaceutical products from all countries, excluding China, were up more than 25% since 2017, before Section 301 tariffs were imposed.
|Date||China (constant USD)||Monthly Percentual Variation||Rest of the world (constant USD)||Monthly Percentual Variation|
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, monetary values are inflation-adjusted to Jul. 2020
With respect to Section 301, ventilators, oxygen masks and other medical goods were never covered by the tariffs against China imposed in July 2018 or those imposed later. So, the significant fall off in imports of goods in these categories during February and March of 2020 is entirely unrelated. The September 2019 additional Section 301 sanctions did cover some face masks, protective garments and other medical supplies. Some opponents of the Section 301 China enforcement actions have claimed that the significant decline in monthly imports from China of medical-related goods was entirely caused by Section 301 tariffs. But a review of the same months over past years show a significant “seasonality” effect: Every year there is a falloff in Chinese imports of these goods during the last quarter of the year.
Furthermore, a close review of the data year-over-year reinforces that the Chinese government deciding not to allow exports of goods it needed to handle a growing coronavirus crisis at home at the beginning of 2020 caused a drop in imports from China of medical goods that was greater than the usual seasonal effect. While imports of critical medical goods from the rest of the world (excluding China) during the first quarter of 2020 grew 21.74% compared to the same period in 2019, imports from China fell 17% comparing the same periods.
As the COVID-19 crisis started in the United States, in early March 2020 the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office began excluding additional COVID-related items via a “List 4” of exclusions from Section 301 tariffs, with duties lifted retroactively to September 2019. When USTR launched a March 25, 2020 request for additional exceptions related to COVID-19, additional medical goods and medicines were not among the items proposed, as they already had been excluded.
That China’s government would prioritize residents’ needs and withhold exports is understandable. That the Chinese government was not forthcoming about doing so created new difficulties for countries that were reliant on Chinese imports and did not know to find alternative sources. However, the main problem that the COVID-19 crisis exposed is that the United States is overly reliant on imports in general and imports from China in specific to meet domestic needs for basic medical goods. This was true even before the coronavirus epidemic. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 90% of surgical masks and 70% of respirators are imported. China produces 50% of masks globally. The U.S. is also heavily reliant on imported medicine and active medical ingredients. The COVID-19 crisis has generated calls from across the political spectrum to increase U.S. production of such goods and to also diversify the source of imports of essential goods.
The United States starting reviews of COVID-19 response exports did not cause other nations to cut sales to us. Most nations had prioritized domestic needs and imposed export reviews or restrictions months earlier.
BACKGROUND: U.S. was among the last to review or limit exports for COVID-19 domestic needs.
Defenders of corporate-rigged trade are outraged that governments worldwide enacted policies to try to meet domestic or regional needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other COVID-19 response products. Instead of governments reviewing local needs for or restricting exports of such goods, they want the “market” to decide where goods go. Given there are shortages, that would result in goods only going to wealthy nations or wealthy individuals in poor nations who can pay the most. Most people think that governments have a role–and indeed a responsibility–to meet their residents’ needs. And there is no global health agency to distribute PPE and other COVID-19 response goods. So, defenders of hyperglobalization have concocted arguments for why governments should not intervene. Their attack on the April 7 U.S. decision to begin reviewing exports of COVID-19 response goods is among the most absurd: They claimed doing so would cause other countries to retaliate and stop sending goods to us. Except, as the table below shows, most countries were screening for domestic needs and already had imposed export restrictions or reviews months earlier. And the trade data here shows China started limiting exports of masks, gloves, ventilators and more in January.
|Country||Categories of Goods||COVID-19 Export Restriction Taken||Measure||Start Date||End Date or Open Ended|
|China||Face masks, personal protective equipment||Export Prohibition||China stops exporting masks and PPE to stockpile medical supplies and tried to obscure its actions by withholding trade data according to media reports and DHS.||1/1/2020||Unknown|
|Taiwan||Masks||Export Prohibition||Taiwan's government announced a one-month ban on the export of specialist masks designed to be used for medical personnel||1/24/2020||Open Ended|
|India||Face masks, gloves, clothing||Export Prohibition||Face masks, protective clothing; 02/09 India removes some masks and gloves from export ban list||1/31/2020||Open Ended|
|Iran||Masks||Export prohibition||Iranian government has banned export of protective face masks for a three-month period.||2/3/2020||05/03/2020|
|Kyrgyzstan||Medicines and medical equipment||Export prohibition||Temporary export ban on medicines and medical equipment from the Kyrgyz Republic.||2/3/2020||08/02/2020|
|Thailand||Masks||Export Prohibition||Thailand bans the exports of masks.||2/5/2020||02/04/2021|
|Oman||Masks, hand sanitizers||Export Prohibition||Directorate-General of Pharmacy and Drug Control bans exports of masks and hand sanitizers.||2/26/2020||Open Ended|
|Turkey||Masks||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Turkey regulates the export of masks and personal protective equipment.||2/28/2020||Open Ended|
|Kazakhstan||Masks||Export prohibition||Kazakstan bans export of masks.||2/29/2020||Open Ended|
|Ecuador||Masks||Export Prohibition||Temporary export prohibition on protective masks||3/2/2020||Open Ended|
|Saudi Arabia||Medical supply products, masks||Export Prohibition||Saudi Arabia stops all exports of coronavirus detection and prevention products.||3/2/2020||Open Ended|
|Kenya||Masks||Export prohibition||Kenyan firms banned from exporting face masks.||3/3/2020||Open Ended|
|Czech Republic||Masks||Export Prohibition||The ministry of health ordered a ban on exports of masks||3/4/2020||Open Ended|
|Russia||Medical supply products, masks||Export Prohibition||Russia bans export of masks and personol protective suits.||3/4/2020||Open Ended|
|Morocco||Masks||Export Prohibition||The Moroccan Ministry of Industry and Trade has imposed an export license for medical protective masks.||3/5/2020||Open Ended|
|Malaysia||Masks||Export prohibition||The government imposes a temporary ban on the export of face masks to meet local demand.||3/7/2020||Open Ended|
|Albania||Medicines and Medical devices||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Prohibition of export of medicines and medical devices. It will be allowed only upon the authorization of the Minister of Health.||3/9/2020||Open Ended|
|South Korea||Medical supply products, masks||Export Prohibition||A new law completely bans the exports of South Korean masks and requires producers to distribute 80 percent of masks through official public channels.||3/9/2020||Open Ended|
|Bulgaria||Medical supply products, masks||Export Prohibition||Bulgarian government immediately banned the exports of personal protective equipment.||3/11/2020||Open Ended|
|Moldova||Masks, gloves and disinfectants||Export Prohibition||April 10: Measure has been extended to May 15. March 11: Export ban on masks, gloves and disinfectants.||3/11/2020||05/15/2020|
|Ukraine||Laboratory suits, medical gloves, medical masks, goggles, protective shields, respirators||Export Prohibition||The government of Ukraine has temporarily restricted exports of anti-epidemic supplies.||3/11/2020||06/01/2020|
|Vietnam||Masks||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Export licenses for medical masks||3/11/2020||Open Ended|
|Kuwait||Foodstuffs, medicines, medical supplies and equipment||Export prohibition||Export prohibition for all foodstuffs, medicines, medical supplies and equipment, unless authorized by Ministry of Trade and Industry.||3/12/2020||Open Ended|
|Indonesia||Medical supply products, masks||Export prohibition||Indonesia to ban face-mask exports||3/13/2020||Open Ended|
|Bangladesh||Medical supply products||Export Prohibition||April 02: Ministry of Commerce has lifted the ban on export of locally-made face masks and hand sanitizers. March 14: The commerce ministry has imposed a ban on the export of locally-made face masks and hand sanitizers as a part of precautionary measures taken in response to the growing domestic demand for the items amid the global coronavirus outbreak.||3/14/2020||04/02/2020|
|Paraguay||Hand sanitizer and face masks||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Export licensing requirement on hand sanitizer and face masks||3/14/2020||Open Ended|
|Serbia||Essential commodities||Export Prohibition||Temporary prohibition of exports of essential commodities.||3/14/2020||Open Ended|
|European Union||Personal protective equipment, medical supplies||Licensing or permit requirements to export||The Commission has taken immediate steps to protect the availability of supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), by requiring that exports of such equipment outside of the European Union are subject to an export authorisation by Member States.||3/15/2020||04/26/2020|
|Israel||Alcohol, face masks, oxygen, swabs, lithium batteries, non-woven fabrics||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Temporary export licensing requirements on personal protective and medical equipment.||3/15/2020||04/30/2020|
|Belarus||Medical supply products||Export Prohibition||Temporary export ban on medical supply products||3/16/2020||06/01/2020|
|Libya||Face masks, respiratory ventilation aids, sterilizing products||Export prohibition||The Minister of Economy and Industry of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Ali Al-Essawi, issued a decree forbidding the export of sterile and non-sterile face masks, and also that of respiratory ventilation aids along with sterilizing products of any type or size.||3/16/2020||Open Ended|
|Uzbekistan||Masks and medical suits||Export Prohibition||Export ban on masks and medical suits.||3/16/2020||Open Ended|
|Egypt||Masks, gloves, disinfection alcohol||Export prohibition||Egypt bans exports of medical masks and rubbing alcohol||3/17/2020||Open Ended|
|Australia||Face masks, disposable gloves, hand sanitizers, goggles, eye visors and alcohol wipes||Export Prohibition||Temporary export ban on certain personal protective equipment. Effectiv for 3 months.||3/18/2020||06/18/2020|
|Brazil||Medical and hospital products||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Temporary implementation of special export licensing requirement on certain products.||3/18/2020||Open Ended|
|Costa Rica||Face masks, disinfectants and medical equipment||Export Prohibition||Temporary export control requirements for statistical purposes on certain personal protective equipment (e.g. face masks, gloves).||3/18/2020||Open Ended|
|Armenia||Medical supplies and equipment||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Export restriction on a range of medical supplies||3/19/2020||Open Ended|
|United Kingdom||Medcines, drugs||Export prohibition||Exports of more than 80 vital drugs have been banned by ministers to prevent NHS shortages of medicines needed to treat coronavirus.||3/19/2020||Open Ended|
|Argentina||Medical Ventilators||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Temporary implementation of export licensing requirement on medical ventilators.||3/20/2020||Open Ended|
|Sri Lanka||Masks||Export Prohibition||April 14: Regulations, No. 2 of 2020 published in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2167/17 of March 20, 2020 are hereby rescinded March 20: Exports of all types of surgical masks are prohibited.||3/20/2020||04/11/2020|
|Algeria||Food products, medicines, medical supply product||Export Prohibition||List of products tempoary suspended from export||3/22/2020||Open Ended|
|Colombia||Medical supply, medicines||Export Prohibition||Temporary export ban on certain personal protective equipment.||3/22/2020||09/21/2020|
|Lebanon||Personal protective equipment, medical supply||Export Prohibition||Lebanon suspendeds export of certain personal protective and medical goods.||3/22/2020||Open Ended|
|Nepal||Medicines, masks and sanitizers||Export Prohibition||Government has banned the export of the medicines, masks and sanitizers.||3/22/2020||Open Ended|
|Eurasian Economic Union||Protective equipment, protective and disinfectants, medical supplies||Export prohibition||A temporary ban has been introduced on the export of personal protective equipment, protective and disinfectants, medical supplies and materials from the EAEU.||3/24/2020||Open Ended|
|Pakistan||Masks||Export Prohibition||Pakistan bans the exports of masks.||3/24/2020||Open Ended|
|Hungary||Hydroxychloroquine drugs||Export prohibition||Hungary has banned the commercial export of hydroxychloroquine sulfate.||3/25/2020||Open Ended|
|El Salvador||Beans||Export prohibition||Temporary export ban on certain dried leguminous vegetables (frijol rojo en grano).||3/26/2020||12/31/2020|
|France||Hydroxychloroquine medicaments||Export prohibition||France has banned exports of hydroxychloroquine.||3/26/2020||Open Ended|
|Switzerland & Liechtenstein||Personal protective equipment, masks||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Medical protection products need export authorisation when exported outside EEA. Affected: Non-EEA countries.||3/26/2020||Open Ended|
|Cyprus||Medicines||Export Prohibition||The export of all medicines from Cyprus to any other country has been banned with immediate effect.||3/27/2020||Open Ended|
|Ivory Coast||Hand Sanitizers||Export prohibition||Ministry of Commerce bans the export of hydro-alcoholic gels||3/27/2020||Open Ended|
|Phillipines||Rice||Export prohibition||The province of Bukidnon will stop exporting rice to ensure food security during its lockdown period. This measure is only applied by Bukidnon.||3/27/2020||Open Ended|
|Botswana||Face masks, hand sanitizer||Licensing or permit requirements to export||The DTIC will need to be consulted prior to the export of certain selected goods including face masks and hand sanitizer.||3/28/2020||Open Ended|
|Eswatini||Face masks, hand sanitizer||Liscensing or permit requirements to export||The DTIC will need to be consulted prior to the export of certain selected goods including face masks and hand sanitizer.||3/28/2020||Open Ended|
|Lesotho||Face masks, hand sanitizer||Licensing or permit requirements to export||The DTIC will need to be consulted prior to the export of certain selected goods including face masks and hand sanitizer.||3/28/2020||Open Ended|
|Namibia||Face masks, hand sanitizer||Licensing or permit requirements to export||3/28/2020||Open Ended|
|South Africa||Face masks, hand sanitizer||Licensing or permit requirements to export||3/28/2020||Open Ended|
|Norway||Personal protective equipment||Licensing or permit requirements to export||An export permit issued by the Directorate of Health is required for the export of personal protective equipment.||3/30/2020||Open Ended|
|Honduras||Beans||Export prohibition||Temoporary export ban on certain dried leguminous vegetables||3/31/2020||Open Ended|
|North Macedonia||Wheat, meslin, wheat flour||Export Prohibition||Measure on the prohibition of exports of wheat and meslin, as well wheat flour, is taken in the emergency situation due to the COVID-19.||4/1/2020||Open Ended|
|Myanmar||Rice||Export Prohibition||Ministry of Commerce is temporarily suspending the issuance of rice export permits.||4/3/2020||Open Ended|
|United States of America||Respirators, surgical masks and surgical gloves||Licensing or permit requirements to export||Administration issued executive order directing federal emergency management and health officials to use the law’s authority to preserve respirators, surgical masks and surgical gloves for domestic use.||4/3/2020||Open Ended|
|Cambodia||Rice, fish||Export Prohibition||Cambodia bans some rice and fish exports to ensure local food security during the coronavirus crisis.||4/5/2020||Open Ended|
|Syria||Food commodities, sterilization and cleaning materials||Export Prohibition||Syrian Ministry of Economy decided to prohibit exports of a series of food commodities, sterilization and cleaning materials.||4/5/2020||05/04/2020|
|Jordan||Food products||Export prohibition||The Jordanian Ministry of Industry, Trade and Supply decided to stop granting export and re-export licenses for food products.||4/6/2020||Open Ended|
|Bahrain||Face masks, face shields||Export Prohibition||Ban to export of all types of protective face masks without prior permission of the Minister. The decision valid is 3 months.||4/9/2020||06/08/2020|
|Azerbaijan||Medical supply products, sterile gloves, masks and goggles, disinfectants||Export Prohibition||Temporary export ban on certain medical supplies products.||4/10/2020||Open Ended|
|Romania||Cereals, flour, sugar, vegetable oil||Export Prohibition||Romania suspended/banned the exports of cereals, flour, sugar, oil and other agri-food products. Affected: Non-EEA countries.||4/10/2020||Open Ended|
|Sudan||Maize, sorghum||Export Prohibition||Sudanese Ministry of Industry and Trade has temporarily banned exports of maize.||4/15/2020||Open Ended|
|Mali||Personal protective equipment, food products||Export Prohibition||The government bans exports of personal protective equipment (e.g.masks, gels) and certain food products (rice, millet, sugar, milk, pasta).||4/17/2020||Open Ended|
|Zimbabwe||Medical supply products||Export Prohibition||Zimbabwe bans exports of medical supplies.||4/22/2020||Open Ended|
|Tajikistan||Grains, beans, wheat, flour, rice, eggs, potatoes and meat||Export Prohibition||Exports of certain food products such as grains, beans, wheat, flour, rice, eggs, potatoes and meat are prohibited.||4/30/2020||Open Ended|
The critical goods trade flow data is sourced from the U.S. International Trade Commission and media reports. The trade flow data is adjusted for inflation to base month April 2020.