FEMA to restrict exports of critical supplies leaving US

The combined effort between FEMA and US Customs and Border Protection, which oversees trade and travel, comes as the United States seeks to shore up equipment for hospitals treating coronavirus patients.

Late last week, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro previewed the actions, saying, “There is a black market which you have described, where we’re having people bid against each other, brokers come in, they’re bidding and bidding on all this different (personal protective equipment).”

“It’s driving the price up and guess what? You know where it’s going? The domestic sources here are being exported,” said Navarro, the White House’s Defense Production Act policy coordinator, at last Thursday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing. “We are going to crack down unmercifully,” he added.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the two agencies, both of which fall under the Department of Homeland Security, said they’re “working together to prevent domestic brokers, distributors, and other intermediaries from diverting these critical medical resources overseas.”

CBP will be responsible for identifying exports at US air and sea ports, while FEMA will decide whether the goods should stay or go overseas.

There is no set timeline for how long the process will take, according to a CBP official.

Even before the rule went into effect, some goods got caught up in the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict scarce supplies being exported. Over the weekend, a shipment of protective masks headed for Ontario, Canada, was delayed and later released in accordance with the presidential memorandum, according to a Customs official.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said “3 million masks were stopped by US officials coming out of 3M in South Dakota,” reported CTV. On Monday, he tweeted that a resolution has been reached between 3M and the US administration.

“I want to thank 3M and officials on both sides of the border for their support to ensure Canada’s continued access to vital PPE,” he wrote.

The rule putting this into effect, set to be published in the Federal Register Friday, stems from President Donald Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act and provides additional authority to FEMA — the agency leading the federal operations response.

Last Friday, Trump issued a presidential proclamation directing federal authorities to allocate “scarce or threatened” supplies for domestic use.

The materials included in the regulation are a range of “facepiece respirators,” including the N95 masks, and other personal protective equipment, like surgical masks and gloves.

“The rule is necessary and appropriate to promote the national defense with respect to the covered materials because the domestic need for them exceeds the supply,” the text of the regulation reads.

The process, according to the rule, will go as follows: CBP will temporarily detain shipments, giving FEMA time to determine next steps. FEMA — taking into consideration possible disruptions to the supply chain, quantity and quality of materials and humanitarian considerations, among other things — will then make a determination “within a reasonable time.”

There are exceptions, including that the agency will not purchase designated materials from shipments made by or on behalf of US manufactures with ongoing export agreements.

The regulation is expected to take effect Friday, when it’s scheduled to be published in the Federal Register.

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