By Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump plans an executive order soon to address the lack of medical product manufacturing in the United States during the novel coronavirus outbreak, the White House said on Monday.
Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News in an interview that an order would soon require federal agencies to purchase U.S.-made medical products, saying the novel coronavirus outbreak had exposed the nation’s reliance on China.
Navarro gave no other details about the proposed order, which would extend “Buy America” requirements to medical products and pharmaceuticals. He said further steps were also needed, including deregulation to make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to operate in the United States.
Navarro’s proposed order has met strong resistance from business leaders and current and former officials, who argued that acting to curb imports could prompt China to curb urgently needed shipments of N95 masks and other protective equipment. The initial proposal was revised slightly but is still going through an interagency review process, according to the officials.
The issue has divided the White House and some of Trump’s key advisers, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow pushing back against the proposed order, according to current and former officials.
In March, over 80 business groups warned such an order could worsen shortages of medical equipment and drugs, and delay discovery of a vaccine for the new coronavirus.
U.S.-China tensions have spiked in recent months over the coronavirus pandemic, fueling a longstanding push by Trump and China hawks like Navarro to bring manufacturing back from overseas.
The administration is weighing new tariffs and efforts are underway across the government to reduce U.S. reliance on industrial components produced in China.
Security risks to the nation’s electric infrastructure over components were also an issue, Navarro said, lauding an executive order signed on Friday by Trump that he said would extend a “Buy America” approach to the power grid.
The order seeks to protect the U.S. electricity system from cyber and other attacks in a move that could lead to barriers on some imports from China and Russia.
“The bulk power system which provides basically the lifeblood of our economy … is now at risk because certain components of that are from abroad and foreign adversaries that can hurt us with both hardware problems and software problems,” Navarro said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)