Biden’s mask mandate boosts demand as imports slip

China 2731 Coronavirus 472 Health Care 292 U.S. 4856 Vietnam 310

The Biden administration has promulgated an Executive Order requiring the use of personal protective equipment (PPE, specifically face masks) when using domestic or international transportation in the United States, which the CDC converted into regulations on Jan. 29 and Homeland Security set into practice on Feb. 1. That will likely increase the natural base of demand for PPE compared to the rules prevailing under the Trump administration.

That’s come as the supply of medical supplies needed for the treatment of COVID-19 picked up in December for the first time in three months. Panjiva’s analysis of products defined by the U.S. ITC shows imports of 141 products increased by 4.6% sequentially in December. That was led by a 23.6% increase in imports of pharmaceuticals while shipments of PPE increased by a more modest 2.6%. 

The latter in dollar terms were worth $2.04 billion, Panjiva’s data shows, which was still well below the $4.86 billion peak reached in May and was still below the level achieved as recently as October. While that may suggest demand going unmet it could also reflect a surge in domestic manufacturing.

PPE imports have stabilized well below peak levels

Chart segments U.S. imports of medical supplies by product. Source: Panjiva

The outlier in the PPE group though has been face masks, Panjiva’s data shows, with imports which dropped by 19.7% year over year including a 17.6% slip in imports from China – which still represent 74.4% of the total – and a 40.5% slump in shipments from Vietnam.

Total imports of $253 million are only inline with the average level of 2019. U.S. seaborne import data suggests there has been a further 9.4% decline in January versus December, further increasing challenges for importers ranging from healthcare suppliers such as Thermo Fisher to retailers including Walgreens. 

China, Vietnam slash supplies of masks to the U.S.

Chart segments U.S. imports of medical masks by origin. Source: Panjiva

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