3M pushes back after Trump orders company to stop exporting N95 masks

WASHINGTON — Manufacturing giant 3M pushed backed against President Trump in a statement on Friday that suggested it would not comply with a White House order to stop exporting masks to Canada and Latin America.

The Trump administration on Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act, compelling 3M to prioritize orders for desperately needed N95 respiratory masks for the US government’s national stockpile.

The Minnesota-based company, one of the largest manufacturers of the masks, said it was looking forward to implementing the order and had already been going “above and beyond” in recent weeks to churn them out as quickly as possible amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But 3M criticized a previously unreported request from the White House that it also stop sending any N95 masks to Latin America and Canada, citing “significant humanitarian implications” given the great need for them in the US and complaints from governors around the country, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, that they wind up in bidding wars for supplies against each other and other countries.

“The Administration also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets,” the Friday morning statement read.

“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,” it continued.

The manufacturing company said it feared other countries would retaliate if it stopped exporting masks made in the US, “as some have already done.”

“If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek.”

Dr. Nicole McCullough, a global health and safety expert at 3M
Dr. Nicole McCullough, a global health and safety expert at 3MREUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

The bombshell sparked a diplomatic scramble, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford telling US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that the new order would potentially jeopardize the health of Canada’s frontline workers, he said in a tweet.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the order a “mistake.”

“It would be a mistake for both of our countries to limit our access to goods and personnel,” Trudeau said Friday morning, saying Canada would “continue to keep trade open with the United States.”

The president and his top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, both lashed into the Minnesota-based company on Thursday night, criticizing 3M for continuing to send respirators overseas when the US is facing a critical domestic shortage.

Trump tweeted that his administration “hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their masks,” and threatened the company “will have a big price to pay.”

At a White House briefing Thursday evening, Navarro said he’d experienced issues making sure 3M products manufactured around the world were “coming back here to the right places.”

In its statement, 3M said it would ramp up overseas production and was exporting 10 million N95 respirators manufactured by its factory in China.

Several other companies including General Electric, Phillips and General Motors have also been recently compelled to produce ventilators in separate Defense Production Act cases.