3M warned on Friday that the Trump administration's request for the company to stop exporting respirator masks could actually make the protective gear less available in the United States.
The Minnesota manufacturing giant issued the warning a day after President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to force 3M to step up its production of desperately needed respirator masks for front-line health workers to use in the fight against the coronavirus.
The text of Trump's order issued Thursday night directs acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to "use any and all authority available under the Act to acquire, from any appropriate subsidiary or affiliate of 3M Company, the number of N-95 respirators that the Administrator determines to be appropriate."
In its statement, the company said the Trump administration "also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets."
It added that "there are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies" to health care workers in those countries, where 3M is a "critical supplier of respirators."
"In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done," 3M added. "If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease."
"That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek."
The White House reportedly tried to force 3M to export 10 million N95 masks from its Singapore facilities to the U.S. rather than sending them to its markets in Asia, the Financial Times reported, citing a person familiar with the conversations.
In a tweet Thursday night, Trump claimed that the White House "hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks."
"'P Act' all the way," Trump added, referring to the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law.
On Friday, 3M CEO Mike Roman responded to Trump's tweet on CNBC: "The idea that 3M is not doing all it can to fight price gouging and unauthorized reselling is absurd. The idea that we're not doing everything we can to maximize deliveries of respirators in our home country – nothing is further from the truth."
Roman and his company noted that 3M was already working with the Trump administration on getting more masks to the U.S. prior to Trump's invocation of the DPA.
"We have been working closely with the Administration to do exactly that, and we appreciate the authorities in the DPA that provide a framework for us to expand even further the work we are doing in response to the global pandemic crisis," 3M said. "We look forward to working with FEMA to implement yesterday's order."
Over the weekend, the company said, the Trump administration "requested that 3M increase the amount of respirators we currently import from our overseas operations into the U.S. We appreciate the assistance of the Administration to do exactly that."
The company also said that "earlier this week, we secured approval from China to export to the U.S. 10 million N95 respirators manufactured by 3M in China."