China Reportedly Takes Control of Mask Production After Numerous Countries Complain of Faulty Exports

The Chinese government has reportedly taken control of medical mask production as demand for supplies soars worldwide amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the crisis, China was making around half of the world's medical masks, totaling some 20 million each day. China's mask industry has exploded in response to the pandemic, with producers in the nation now making more than 116 million every day.

Even the richest nations have struggled to provide enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for front line medical workers, not to mention other citizens. The international community has turned to China for help, despite concerns over the quality of such products and suspicions that Beijing tried to cover-up the scale and severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Faulty goods are at least one of the reasons China has taken more control of mask production and export. As Beijing pivoted to assisting other nations with the pandemic, some European nations complained that equipment received was inadequate. Beijing subsequently introduced quality control measures on exports to avoid such embarrassing incidents.

The Chinese Communist Party's tighter control over the production and distribution of masks has left some governments and firms unable to secure the equipment they need, according to multiple reports.

The U.S.-based 3M company saw its Chinese factories "nationalized, effectively" by the Chinese government, said Peter Navarro, a manufacturing and trade adviser to President Donald Trump, speaking to Fox Business in February.

Initially, China appeared to be holding back masks produced in the country to fight its own outbreak, as well as buying up tens of millions from abroad. Export restrictions appear to be easing with the Chinese outbreak largely contained.

3M, for example, reached a deal with the White House earlier this month to supply 166.5 million masks from its Chinese factories over the next three months. And on Sunday, some 1.5 million Chinese masks arrived in South Carolina.

But Chinese producers are handling a huge backlog of orders from around the world. According to Leo Friedman—the CEO of the Chicago-based iPromo firm—millions of orders for Chinese N95 masks were cancelled last week. "They were for hospitals and state governments," he told Forbes. "We told them last week that we can't get them."

Florida's Department of Emergency Management, meanwhile, told The Miami Herald that N95 delivery deals had been falling through for weeks.

Some of the delays and cancellations will be due to export control measures, introduced after nations including the U.K., Spain, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands all recalled or rejected Chinese products for being faulty.

Earlier this month, the State Department called on China to address the bottleneck in vital medical exports. "We appreciate the efforts to ensure quality control," a State Department spokesperson said, "But we do not want this to serve as an obstacle for the timely export of important supplies."

Though China is making an effort to address quality issues, the Canadian government said last week it had rejected 1 million KN95 respirators—the Chinese version of the N95 mask—for failing to meet federal standards for use by front-line health professionals.

On Saturday authorities introduced new measures for medical products, declaring that all exports had to meet Chinese and international regulatory standards. All exporters must now file a written declaration confirming that their products meet the safety requirements of the destination country, the ministry of commerce said, according to AFP.

Officials also announced they have seized more than 89 million faulty masks during inspections of some 16 million businesses. Gan Lin, deputy director of the State Administration of Market Regulation, told reporters the body had also seized 418,000 pieces of other types of protective gear and ineffective disinfectants worth more than $1 million.

Jin Hai, a Chinese customs official, explained earlier this month that some companies were pushing ahead with producing substandard medical products to earn "quick money," AFP reported.

China, masks, faulty, exports, nationalized, production, coronavirus
This file photo shows a group of workers making masks at Naton Medical Group in Beijing on April 24, 2020. WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images/Getty