WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) questioned Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials during a Senate Committee on Finance hearing entitled, “Protecting the Reliability of the US Medical Supply Chain During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Lankford questioned dependence on China, who earlier this year prevented companies from shipping Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at the height of the pandemic, which resulted in frontline medical workers not having the equipment they needed to treat American with coronavirus.
Last week, Lankford cautioned vigilance of China’s aggressive agenda during a speech on the Senate floor. Lankford specifically noted, “If we don’t develop our own supply chain, our own manufacturing for pharmaceuticals, and for the precursors of pharmaceuticals, we’ll continue to be vulnerable to the Chinese government and at the moment the communist government determines they will take over that supply, and we will be at risk.”
On US dependence for Supply Chain
Lankford: It’s one thing to be able to know that we have a dependency on other areas. It’s another thing to be able to know that we have this dependency and we need to be able to diversify this. Other countries and other places because having a supply chain map is good, it’s a good start but having an opportunity to say to companies ‘your dependent on one place and that one place happens to be a communist country that we’ve already seen them be able to cut off supplies based on their needs rather than the needs of others. That they won’t fulfill contracts on a whim. That they will actually shut things off if they choose to, to be able to use economic pressure even if it cost us the loss of life. That’s not something they care about in China. So we have to be able to not only map where they are coming from but then develop the relationship to be able to press on those companies to say you need a more diverse portfolio because you are putting American lives at risk but having a very narrow funnel for their suppliers.
On forced labor being used to produce PPE
Lankford: We have also found this in the PPE and some of the products that are coming across. There are some accusations coming from PPE products that are coming into the United States from China from places that they are using forced labor for the production of that. Have we been able to determine, one way or another, if forced labor is being used in some of the production of PPE coming into the United States?
Thomas Overacker, Cargo and Conveyance Security, Office of Field Operations, CBP: Yes, we have recently issued a hold release warrant for nitro gloves, which are medical standard gloves coming from Malesia for a particular manufacture there. We have determined that forced labor was being used. So we continue to monitor these situations and we act upon any leads or investigations that we encounter with respect to force labor. Currently, at CBP I think we have 13 active hold and release orders on products from a variety of other countries. Not just the nitro gloves from Malesia but we continue to try to enforce our authorities with respect to forced labor.