Trump Would Use Defense Act to Retaliate on Virus Supplies

Justin Sink and Ben Bain

(Bloomberg) --

President Donald Trump said he would use the Defense Production Act to retaliate in cases where companies ship medical equipment elsewhere that’s needed in the U.S. to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

“You could call it retaliation, because that’s what it is -- it’s a retaliation. If people don’t give us what we need for our people, we’re going to be very tough,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Saturday.

Trump has said he invoked the act to ban the export of supplies needed around the world to fight the coronavirus pandemic -- escalating a battle with allies including Canada, and 3M Co.

3M has pushed back against a request from the Trump administration to halt exports of protective face masks, saying the move would cut off critical supplies for neighboring countries and raise “significant” humanitarian concerns.

Trump renewed his criticism of the company. “We’re very disappointed in 3M,” Trump said. “They should be taking care of our country. They can sell to others but they should be taking care of our country.”

A Korean War–era law, the Defense Production Act of 1950 gives the president the power to require businesses to set priorities or accept contracts to promote the national defense.

Trade experts have warned that any decision to block exports of masks and other equipment would risk retaliatory measures by countries that would undermine international efforts to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.

More than 300,000 people in the U.S. have contracted the virus and more than 8,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

(Updates with Trump comment in fifth paragraph.)

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