Latest Data Reveal Growing U.S. Trade Deficits in Ventilators, Masks and Other Coronavirus-Related Gear as Shortages Reemerge, Reflecting U.S. Overreliance on Imported Goods to Battle Pandemic
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch released an updated series of trade flow and country-of-origin data infographics on medical goods used to battle COVID-19 ahead of tomorrow’s U.S. House Ways & Means Committee hearing on critical supply chains, trade and manufacturing.
The newest feature is:
- Data on which foreign countries provided what share of U.S. imports of various categories of medicines.
In addition, the web feature includes updated data showing:
- The U.S. has grown even more dependent on imports from China and the rest of the world for key medical goods during the COVID-19 era as the U.S.-China and U.S.-world deficits in key medical goods increased through May 2020 (latest data available as of July 2020);
- U.S. exports of masks and ventilators to the world continued to spike through May 2020 after a major increase in U.S. exports of critical medical goods to China when U.S. domestic demand was highest in January-March 2020; and
- How the sources of medical goods imported into the U.S. have shifted over time. (Wherever possible, we use data showing volume, rather than value. Volume more accurately represents what goods are being traded while the value data often reflects distortions in prices caused by transfer pricing and other corporate tax manipulations.)
Decades of hyperglobalization have undermined our resilience against the COVID-19 crisis. Even into summer 2020, the U.S. still cannot make or get critical goods people need with shortages again emerging of personal protective equipment (PPE) as infection rates rise. More than 40,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities have been lost to 25 years of corporate-rigged trade policies that made it easier and less risky to move production overseas to pay workers less and trash the environment.
Having the world’s largest trade deficit year after year means the U.S. is extremely reliant on other countries to provide essential goods. As the COVID-19 crisis emerged in early 2020, U.S. government officials urged U.S. firms to expand exports to China of the limited U.S. domestic production of key medical goods instead of considering U.S. residents’ needs. Effective implementation of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to purchase and domestically allocate PPE, ventilators and more would have preempted the export frenzy we see in the data. Unfortunately, Americans are still in the dark about the extent to which these critical emergency powers have been used to control exports of critical supplies.
After decades of outsourcing and corporations buying up competitors to consolidate control of production sectors and shuttering “redundant” production facilities, many critical goods are now mainly made in one or two countries. When workers there fall ill or governments prioritize their own peoples’ needs before exporting goods away, a worldwide shortage of masks, gloves, medicine and more can quickly develop.
And, under current practices and policies, it’s hard to quickly increase production. Long, thin globalized supply chains mean parts needed to make any one product may come from dozens of countries. If one link in the chain breaks because it is difficult to source inputs and components from a specific country or region, it becomes impossible to scale up domestic production during a crisis. And, monopoly patent protections in many trade agreements expose countries to sanctions if they produce medicine, ventilators and more without approval by and payment to pharmaceutical and other firms.
With policymakers and the public distracted, corporate lobbyists are pushing for more of the same trade policies that hatched the unreliable supply chains now failing us all. Instead, we must fundamentally Rethink Trade. The goals should be healthy, resilient communities and economic well-being for more people – not the current priority of maximizing corporate profits.