3M Co. (NYS:MMM) said Friday the administration of President Donald Trump has asked it to cease exporting respirators that are made in the U.S. to Latin America and Canada, given they are in short supply during the coronavirus pandemic. The company said it is a vital supplier of that equipment in those markets and that there are "signifiant humanitarian implications" to such a move. "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," the company said in a statement. "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 company, which was criticized by Trump at a Thursday briefing after it said demand for N95 respirators was exceeding capacity, said it is looking forward to working with FEMA to boost production after Trump invoked the Defense Production Act against the company, giving the federal government more control over its operations. The company has received approval to import 10 million N95 masks made at 3M facilities in China back to the U.S. "We also continue to act on reports of price gouging and unauthorized reselling related to 3M respirators. This activity is unethical and illegal," said the statement. 3M and a half dozen smaller competitors are making about 50 million N95 masks a month, as the Wall Street Journal has reported. The masks block 95% of very small particles and are key for health care workers. Production is far short of the 300 million N95 masks that the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that U.S. health-care workers would need monthly to fight a pandemic. 3M shares were down 2.3% premarket and have fallen 22% in the year to date, while the S&P 500 (S&P:SPX) has fallen 22%.
April 3, 2020, 8:54 a.m. EDT