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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump travels Thursday to the swing state of Ohio tosign an executive order requiring the federal government to purchase certaindrugs from U.S. manufacturers rather than from overseas companies.
The order, which Trump will sign at Whirlpool Corp.’s manufacturing plant in Clyde in the northern part of the state, instructs the government to develop a list of “essential” medicines and then buy them and other medical supplies from U.S. manufacturers instead of from companies around the world.
The White House says the order will protect the nation’s drug supply and ensure Americans have access to the essential medicines and other medical supplies. But the official trip also marks Trump’s latest to a battleground state at a time when the coronavirus has sidelined regular campaigning.
“President Trump understands Ohioans and Americans across the country must have access to life-saving medications, particularly as we fight this battle against the invisible enemy from China,” said Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.
Navarro said the order “establishes Buy American rules for our government agencies, strips away regulatory barriers to domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing” and serves as a catalyst for manufacturing technologies needed to keep drug prices low and medicine production onshore.
Trump’s trip to Ohio is the latest in a series of recent visits he has made to states that are expected to be pivotal in November’s election and comes as he is again facing criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 157,000 Americans. Democrats initially wrote off the Buckeye State this year, but polls show presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a slight edge.
Trump carried Ohio in the 2016 election by percentage 8 points.
Critics have charged that the administration was woefully unprepared for the deadly coronavirus and that a breakdown in supply chains left the United States without enough tests and protective equipment to fight the disease early in the pandemic.
Trump has said he wants to prepare for future pandemics by replenishing the national stockpile and bringing manufacturing of critical supplies and equipment back to the U.S.
“We’re dangerously over-dependent on foreign nations for essential medicines, for medical supplies like masks, gloves, goggles and medical equipment like ventilators,” Navarro said.
Some 72% of manufacturers that supply pharmaceutical ingredients to the U.S. are located overseas, and 13% of them are in China, Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told a congressional panel last October. Tensions between the U.S. and China are at a peak, not only over the coronavirus but also trade and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Last week, Trump announced a deal with the Eastman Kodak Co. to manufacture pharmaceuticals. The administration plans to give the camera company a $765 million loan to launch a pharmaceuticals division.
The loan from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is the first of its kind under the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that allows the government to direct private industry to produce weapons, vehicles and other materiel for war and emergencies.
The order that Trump will sign in Ohio directs the Department of Health and Human Services to use the Defense Production Act to procure essential medicines and other equipment from the United States, but it does not stipulate precisely which drugs would fall under the requirements.
The World Health Organization maintains a list of essential medicines that includes more than 400 drugs. But because of its location, the U.S. won’t need to declare some of them essential, such as anti-malaria drugs, Navarro said.
The average American pays about $1,200 per year on prescription drugs, more than anyone else in the world. We explain.
The order also aims to speed up the permitting process for domestic manufacturers of pharmaceutical ingredients and essential medicines by directing the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to give them priority during the regulatory review process.
Navarro said the order would remove some of the regulatory barriers that put U.S. manufacturers of drugs and medical supplies at a competitive disadvantage.
For example, “the FDA can walk into any pharmaceutical manufacturer in the U.S. unannounced and inspect,” Navarro said. “If they try to do that in China or India, these governments will tell them come back in six months and maybe we’ll let you in. And we let them get away with that. That’s not going to happen anymore.”
The White House says the order also will help prevent the trafficking of counterfeit medicines from third-party online sellers involved in the government procurement process.
During his visit to Ohio, Trump also is expected highlight his efforts to support the nation’s manufacturing sector, including trade agreements that the administration says are driving job creation, business investment and manufacturing across the nation. Trump is running for reelection at a time when the economy has been ravaged by coronavirus lockdown orders.
Trump’s tour of the Whirlpool factory is the latest in a series of recent visits he has made at manufacturing plants in crucial swing states, including Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
The Whirlpool factory is considered the largest washing machine plant in the world and employs roughly 3,400 people. In 2018, Trump imposed tariffs of up to 50% on washing machines imported from other countries in response to a petition from Whirlpool, which complained that Samsung and LG were flooding the U.S. with low-priced, foreign-made washing machines.
Whirlpool said the tariffs leveled the playing field and enabled it to add 200 new jobs at the Clyde plant.
Trump also is scheduled to attend a fund-raiser in the Cleveland area while he’s in Ohio.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Reach him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
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