This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
U.S. President Donald Trump has asked a company that produces essential medical equipment to stop providing respirators to Canada as both countries continue to deal with the spread of the coronavirus.
In a statement posted to its website, 3M said the U.S. government “formally invoked the Defense Production Act to require 3M to prioritize orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for our N95 respirators.”
“The Administration also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets,” said the company's statement. “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.”
VICE has reached out to 3M for comment but has yet to hear back. In a press conference on Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed the company’s concerns but said he is “confident” Canada will continue to get the medical equipment it needs.
Trump tweeted about the company Thursday night, saying his administration “hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. ‘P Act’ all the way.” Trump went on to tweet “big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing—will have a big price to pay!” The “P Act” President Trump is referring to seems to be the defense production act—the act allows the government more control over industrial production during emergencies.
3M didn’t say if it would acquiesce to Trump’s demand but said the order may backfire as the U.S. imports plenty of medical equipment themselves and such measures could cause other countries to retaliate.
“If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease,” said the company’s statement. “That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek.”
Canada does not currently produce N95 masks domestically but the government is attempting to change that. On Tuesday, Trudeau announced the government would be spending $2 billion in an attempt to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care and front line workers, including 60 million N95 masks purchased from international markets. The CBC reports that healthcare workers are currently rationing the masks as the national stockpile begins to dwindle.
"The entire world is trying to get its hands on the various equipment needed to fight this virus. That is why we know that it will be important to have made-in-Canada solutions," Trudeau said in Tuesday’s press conference.
The Canadian government has reached an agreement with Montreal-based company Medicom who announced that it will start producing masks imminently.
“We're talking tens of millions of masks we'll be able to supply starting April 1 until the next few months,” Medicom president Guillaume Laverdure told CTV on Thursday.
On Friday, Trudeau announced he reached a deal with Amazon to distribute health care equipment such as masks, and respirators to provinces across Canada.
N95 masks have proven to be important during the pandemic because they’re significantly more effective than a traditional surgical mask. They’re designed to filter out the particles that can carry coronavirus which can be spread via droplets from person to person.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.