Tariffs disrupted medical supplies critical to US coronavirus fight

Chad P. Bown (PIIE)

March 17, 2020

Tariffs disrupted medical supplies critical to US coronavirus fight

US tariffs on imports from China have threatened to cause shortages of vital medical products used to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Disrupted supply chains in the medical sector could limit US access to thermometers, CT systems, patient monitors, and other essential items.

The US-China trade war has forced US buyers to reduce purchases of medical supplies from China and seek alternative sources. US imports of Chinese medical products covered by the Trump administration’s 25 percent tariffs dropped by 16 percent in 2019 compared with two years earlier. (These tariffs on China were imposed under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.) US imports of the same products from the rest of the world increased by only 23 percent, roughly the same pace as US imports of medical products less affected by tariffs or not affected at all.

Compounding the supply bottlenecks, dozens of countries are now restricting their exports of critical medical equipment to the United States and other markets. If shortages deepen globally, medical suppliers in China and elsewhere made wary by the Trump administration’s trade policy are likely to consider American buyers their last choice for sales. American healthcare providers thus face obstacles maintaining access to the highest quality, lowest cost supplies, including access to Chinese products.

This PIIE Chart was adapted from Chad P. Bown’s blog post, “Trump’s trade policy is hampering the US fight against COVID-19”.

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