Washington/Arlington — US President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order on Thursday that would encourage the production of certain drugs and medical supplies in the US, after shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The order urges purchasers to buy American-made products and loosens federal drug-safety and environmental regulations that the administration says disadvantage domestic producers, among other measures.

The drugs and devices covered by the order are expected to include medicines used to respond to a public-health emergency or biohazard attack, among others. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on a call with reporters that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will come up with the list of essential medicines covered by the order, but he didn’t say by when.

“We’re dangerously overdependent on foreign nations for our essential medicines, for medical supplies such as masks, gloves, goggles and the like, and medical equipment such as ventilators,” Navarro said on the call. “Across the world we have sweatshop labour, we have pollution havens, we have tax havens that have pulled our manufacturing offshore, particularly for pharmaceuticals.”

Healthcare providers have struggled to get the drugs or equipment they need during the pandemic because so many are made overseas. Researchers and lawmakers have decried such reliance on foreign suppliers for years, but the public outcry over drug and equipment shortages during the Covid-19 pandemic has increased attention on the issue.

The administration recently awarded a $765m contract to Eastman Kodak to make ingredients used in key generic medicines and a $354m contract to generic drugmaker Phlow to make Covid-19 drugs and build new US-based plants for essential medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients.

Navarro said the order “establishes a base level of demand to attract a level of investment sufficient to provide for the needs we have for these things in times of trouble”.

Trump will travel to a Whirlpool plant in Ohio on Thursday afternoon to sign the order.

The FDA has said about 80% of the key building blocks for medicine, that is, active pharmaceutical ingredients, come from outside the US. A large portion are made in China and India, countries where the FDA has discovered product-quality issues stemming from poor manufacturing practices.

Millions of blood-pressure drugs with ingredients made in China and India were recalled starting two years ago after it was discovered they contained chemicals that can cause cancer.

The Pentagon has also raised concern that relying on China for pharmaceutical ingredients is a national security risk. In addition, the pandemic has revealed how disruption in other countries can leave Americans vulnerable after India temporarily halted the export of some products that could be needed to treat Covid-19 patients.


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