That’s the thrust of a letter to President Joe Biden, released Tuesday by a trade group representing 26 small manufacturers who have shifted to production of much-needed safety items as the health crisis has set in ‘last year.
Manufacturers have said more than half of their production will go offline in 60 days if they don’t get immediate federal help, costing thousands of jobs. They blame cheap imports, especially from China.
“We are writing to you with a request for immediate assistance against unfair trade practices by foreign countries that threaten the viability of the US domestic PPE mask manufacturing industry, as well as future pandemic preparedness efforts in the United States,” the newly formed group, the American mask maker. Association, said in the letter.
The group said it can produce 3.7 billion surgical masks and more than one billion high-protection N95 masks per year – and now sits on stocks of 260 million surgical masks in its warehouses it struggles to sell. Another 20 million N-95s are also on factory shelves.
When masks were scarce last year, prices skyrocketed. But prices have now collapsed, and hospital administrators and others are looking for the best prices in a market crowded with new offers.
A box of 50 surgical masks sold for over $ 50 a year ago can be found for $ 5 now.
The trade group said that while there are three to six cents of raw material in each surgical mask, imported Chinese surgical masks now sell for an average of one cent each. “China… does sell masks in the US market at costs well below the actual costs.”
“If that remains the same, 54 percent of our production will be taken offline in 60 days and 84.6 percent in less than a year,” the group said in the letter. The group said it created more than 7,800 jobs in the United States last year, but about a third of those have already been lost due to production cuts.
The Biden administration has pledged to seek ways to support domestic producers of protective gear – including potentially finding ways to subsidize U.S. producers – but government reviews are still ongoing.
“The idea that everyone voiced during the crisis – that we need to prevent (PPE shortages) from happening again – has not changed for-profit institutions,” said James Wyner, CEO of Shawmut Corp, a West Bridgewater, Massachusetts manufacturer. of engineering materials that developed into the production of masks during the crisis. “Distributors always buy at the lowest price.”
Wyner said he was selling masks from his new production lines, but “significantly less than we would like.”
Adam Albrecht, senior quality control manager at Indiana Face Mask, another small producer, said when the company started producing the higher filtration N-95 masks last year: “People came out of carpentry saying, ‘We can sell this, we can sell that. But it seems that no matter how much lower we adjust the prices, the Chinese are staying right below. “
Some manufacturers of small masks are confident they will survive.
Dan Izhaky, who, along with a partner, invested $ 4 million in a new mask factory outside Los Angeles, said the challenge was greater for manufacturers of surgical masks, the ubiquitous safety masks that are relatively easy to manufacture.
Izhaky’s company makes more complex N-95 masks and he said it has continued to grow. “But we also believe that the Biden administration is going to take a number of steps down the road to really help us be sustainable,” he said.
The mask trade group – which does not include industry giants such as 3M Co and Honeywell International Inc – has urged the Biden administration to take immediate action to support the industry.
Their recommendations include requiring the federal government and any other institution receiving federal dollars for the purchase of protective equipment to purchase only U.S.-made masks that meet government regulations on domestic content and remove all masks from federal stock that do not meet federal standards.
They also want the administration to force any hospital that accepts federal funds to allocate 40% of its PPE spending to domestic producers by 2023.
They are also asking the government to consider purchasing the 260 million masks now stored in the new factories.