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US should refrain from export controls in pandemic response: Chamber of Commerce

[WASHINGTON] The US Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday urged the United States to refrain from adopting export controls or other measures that could impede the movement of medicines and other essential goods needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The chamber said it welcomed a joint pledge issued Wednesday by Australia, Canada and other countries to keep supply chains open and avoid export controls, and urged Washington to follow suit.

"To date, the US has laudably refrained from imposing export controls on these goods, and we urge the United States to continue to avoid such measures, which would immediately undermine US-based production of medical supplies," chamber executive vice president Myron Brilliant said in a statement.

There are growing concerns about protectionist measures being discussed or adopted as countries scramble to respond to the virus.

The Group of Seven advanced economies on Tuesday raised concerns about potential global supply chain disruptions, and the issue will be addressed by leaders of the Group of 20 (G-20) largest economies when they hold a virtual summit on Thursday.

But US President Donald Trump downplayed the likelihood of an executive order banning exports of such items from the US. "I don't know that we'll need that, but I think it is happening by itself," he said, adding that the country produces "the best medical equipment in the world".

Mr Brilliant welcomed the joint statement by the governments of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Myanmar, New Zealand and Singapore on Wednesday pledging to keep trade lines open.

Barriers such as tariffs and export controls could threaten the ability of US industry to deliver such supplies to hospitals and medical practitioners.

Mr Brilliant urged G-20 leaders to "match this pledge to ensure that all nations work together to respond to this pandemic".

The US and China, the world's two largest economies and key members of the G-20, have been at odds in recent weeks over the origin of the virus, sparking concerns that China could hold back needed medical supplies from shipment to the US.

Amid those concerns, the Trump administration has looked at several measures to increase US supplies, including possible export controls, although no details have been released, according to two industry sources.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a leading China hawk, has been crafting a separate "Buy America" executive order aimed at reducing US reliance on Chinese-made pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies.