WASHINGTON -- A move by President Donald Trump to restrict exports of masks and other protective equipment needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic is drawing a backlash from around the world even as a senior aide to the president said Monday the U.S. was "locked and loaded" at the border to prevent "profiteering" from exports by American companies.
Faced with domestic criticism of his administration's handling of the COVID-19 crisis and cries of shortages from hospitals on the front lines, Trump late Friday imposed a ban on exports of N95 masks, surgical gloves and other protective equipment.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Peter Navarro, the adviser Trump has put in charge of directing the manufacturing and distribution of that equipment, said the administration was using its powers under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to address the shortages.
"We are locked and loaded right today at the border with customs and border protection ready to crack down on black market profiteering in this country," Navarro said.
Trump on Saturday said his administration was working to make sure that products made in the U.S. were used first to address the needs of Americans. He ordered the ban on exports after clashing with 3M over what the administration said was the company's sending overseas masks needed in the U.S. The company has warned that limits on its exports could lead to retaliation by other countries.
"We need the masks. We don't want other people getting it, and that's why we're -- that's why we're instituting a lot of Defense Production Act, you could call it, retaliations," Trump told reporters. "If people don't give us what we need for our people, we're going to be very tough, and we've been very tough."
The move to restrict exports comes after dozens of other economies including China and the European Union have done the same in recent weeks.
But the U.S. standing as the world's largest economy gives its actions greater weight. Allies also complain that America is simultaneously waging an aggressive campaign to outbid other countries for supplies internationally.
Together, the moves amount to the first skirmishes in an economic war at the very time when international cooperation to combat the virus should be ruling the day.
Canadian officials scrambled over the weekend to try to persuade the Trump administration to exempt their nation from any export ban and those talks continued Monday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking with his counterpart. The move has drawn particular outrage in Canada because the U.S. neighbor provides raw materials for masks made by American producers such as 3M and Honeywell.