U.S. Mask Companies Struggle to Compete with China

In Congress, a bilateral-backed bill would provide $ 500 million in annual spending over the next three years to support domestic manufacturers of essential medical devices.

Industry executives praise these moves but say time is running out. The American Mask Manufacturer’s Association, a recently formed trade group, said its 27 members have already laid off 50 percent of their workforce. Without concerted action from Washington, most of these companies will collapse in the next two months.

An immediate boost, it is said, would be the repeal of CDC guidelines, which emerged during the pandemic, forcing health workers to reuse N95 masks repeatedly, despite the fact that they are supposed to be thrown away after contact with each patient. Many hospitals are still adhering to guidelines despite 260 million masks gathering dust in camps across the country.

“We’re not looking for endless government support,” said Lloyd Armbrust, association president and founder and chief executive officer of Armbrust American, a mask maker in Texas. “We need government support now because unfair pressure from China will kill this new industry before lawmakers even get a chance to fix the problem.”

The association plans to file an unfair trade complaint with the World Trade Organization alleging that much of the protective equipment imported from China is being sold for less than the cost of production. The price of some Chinese-made surgical masks recently dropped to just 1 cent, compared to around 10 to 15 cents for American masks that use domestically made raw material.

“This is an all-out economic warfare,” said Luis Arguello Jr., vice president of DemeTech, a Florida medical suture company that laid off 1,500 workers who made surgical masks earlier this month. He said 500 other workers who make N95 masks are likely to be laid off in the coming weeks.

“China is on a mission to make sure no one in the industry survives and so far they are winning,” said Arguello.

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