Donald Trump has signed an executive order that will require the federal government to procure certain essential medicines from US manufacturers, in an effort to reduce reliance on foreign supply chains.
Mr Trump directed the government to compile a list of essential drugs that must be purchased from US companies as part of the order, which was unveiled when he visited a Whirlpool factory in Ohio on Thursday.
“President Trump is securing American drug supply chains so that all Americans are protected and can have access to essential medicines and medical countermeasures,” the White House said.
Mr Trump also ordered his health department to invoke the Defense Production Act, a Korean war-era law that allows the government to compel companies to take action to enhance US security. Mr Trump has invoked the 1950 law several times since the outbreak of coronavirus.
“Over the course of the next four years, we will bring our pharmaceutical and medical supply chains home and we will end reliance on China and other foreign nations,” Mr Trump said.
The pandemic has increased scrutiny of US medical supply chains, with lawmakers and administration officials increasingly anxious about the national security implications of sourcing medical supplies from China.
Mr Trump has taken a tougher stance on China over everything from its activities in the South China Sea to Chinese ownership of TikTok, the popular video app. His position is expected to harden even further in the three months leading up to the presidential election, as he increasingly blames China for the pandemic.
His visit to Ohio comes as he trails Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in the Midwestern swing state, which he won in 2016 with an 8-point margin over Hillary Clinton. While many experts believed that Ohio had become a more reliable state for Republicans, Mr Trump has slipped in the polls there and in other swing states, as well as nationally, over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Trump has been using visits to manufacturing plants across the US in recent months as a way to travel to swing states at a time when he is constricted in his ability to hold campaign rallies by Covid-19.
In February, as concerns rose about prolonged coronavirus-related closures of key facilities in China, Peter Navarro, a top White House official, told the Financial Times that the outbreak was a “wake-up call” for the US to cut its reliance on pharmaceutical and medical supply imports from China and other nations.
Robert Lighthizer, US trade representative, has also raised concerns about over-reliance on Chinese manufacturers. In April he told the G20 that “overdependence” created a “strategic vulnerability” for the US economy.
The issue has sparked rising concern on Capitol Hill from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, from Republican China hawks such as Senator Marco Rubio to Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who is viewed as a long-shot choice for Mr Biden’s vice-presidential running mate.
Aside from requiring federal bodies to buy American-made products, lawmakers have discussed government-backed loans for companies to move supply chains to the US, along with tax breaks as an incentive.
The White House said Mr Trump would also direct the Food and Drug Administration, the main US drug regulator, to prioritise domestic manufacturers when vetting essential drugs and critical ingredients.