Exclusive — American PPE Manufacturer: Joe Biden’s Tariffs on China Come ‘Too Little, Too Late’

nitrile gloves china
Zhang Yongxin/VCG via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced tariffs on Chinese-made personal protective equipment (PPE), but one American PPE manufacturer told Breitbart News that it is too little, too late.

“It’s too little, too late. China has gained a dominant market position in the U.S. while the administration dithered,” Scott Maier, CEO of Blue Star NBR, told Breitbart News.

According to the White House, tariffs on syringes and needles will increase from 0 to 50 percent in 2024, tariffs on other PPE — including certain respirators and face masks — will increase from 0-7.5 to 25 percent in 2024, and tariffs on rubber medical and surgical gloves will increase from 7.5 to 25 percent in 2026.

The White House said in a fact sheet:

These tariff rate increases will help support and sustain a strong domestic industrial base for medical supplies that were essential to the COVID-19 pandemic response, and continue to be used daily in every hospital across the country to deliver essential care.

However, the tariffs will do nothing to help Maier’s company or stop China from becoming the world’s largest medical glove supplier by the time the tariffs kick in. It was not supposed to turn out that way.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump’s administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on Chinese-made medical equipment, including medical gloves. After the pandemic hit, that was temporarily dropped due to the Obama administration’s depletion of the Strategic National Stockpile’s dire need for gloves to treat sick patients.

At the same time, Trump organized a massive effort to manufacture PPE in America so that it would not be reliant on any foreign country for PPE. Trump used the Defense Production Act to award grants to American manufacturers willing and able to start producing PPE.

The federal government invested $123 million in Maier’s company, Blue Star NBR, to build a nitrile rubber factory to produce rubber for medical gloves. Maier also planned to build an adjacent glove-making factory. Revenue from those two factories would then generate enough income to build five more glove-making factories.

The project would create 2,500 jobs and bring in $1.3 billion in revenue to Wytheville, Virginia, a town decimated along with the coal industry. About 4,000 more jobs to support those jobs would be created.

However, due to the increased costs of building materials and energy, Maier finished building the factory in the spring of 2023 but ran out of money before he could hook it up to a power source. By then, President Joe Biden had taken office, and when Maier asked for more help, he was told the contract was completed and he would have to apply for a new one or find another source. Meanwhile, the Biden administration awarded a grant to a company in Louisiana to make rubber gloves. The company was even further behind than Maier.

Biden also never reinstated Trump’s tariffs on Chinese PPE, even after the pandemic ended in May 2023.

In the fall of 2023, Maier was forced to begin mothballing the multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art factory, and, in the short time that it took for Maier to build his factory and wait for more funds, China went from being a bit player in the global medical glove market to a major supplier.

As Breitbart News previously reported, data from the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) shows that, in 2019, domestic manufacturing of medical gloves was 0 percent, and the U.S. relied upon China for about 14.2 percent of its demand. Other countries, such as Malaysia and Thailand — far more friendly nations to the United States than China — made up 85.7 percent of imports.

However, after one year of Biden being in office, China increased its share of medical gloves to the U.S. to 26.8 percent. In December 2023, that share increased to 44.15 percent, becoming the U.S.’s top supplier.

“At this pace, if nothing changes, the U.S. will be dependent on China for approximately 60 percent of medical gloves used domestically in 2024,” Breitbart News’s Matthew Boyle reported in February.

Maier said to reverse the trend of Chinese dominance, the Biden administration needed to impose a 100 percent tariff on Chinese-made gloves, since even a 25 percent tariff on Chinese-made gloves would still leave them cheaper than Malaysian or U.S.-made gloves.

“Returning gloves to the 25 percent tariff rate of the Trump administration is a small step in the right direction but leaves the Administration and America way behind in the game. Even a 50 percent tariff would be inadequate, given China’s extremely aggressive and unfair pricing tactics, designed to destroy competitors and seize control of the market,” he said.

“For a level global playing field where countries like the U.S. and Malaysia can compete, something closer to a 100 percent tariff is needed. Our country is in an extremely vulnerable position given our healthcare system’s overdependence on China,” he said, adding, “We are on track to rely on China for the majority of our nitrile gloves, which means China has enormous leverage given its ability to affect not only our healthcare system, but our first responders handling fentanyl, our sanitary food processing, and our semiconductor factories building critical chips. This return of the tariff, after an unacceptably long runway of two years, seems to ignore all that China has done since COVID hit over four years ago.”

The tariffs come just months before the 2024 election.

Politico reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration actually wanted to cut some of the tariffs on “thousands of consumer products” and increase them on high-tech industries, like clean energy and semiconductors, but any decisions were hampered by internal debate and a desire to repair the U.S. relationship with China. Vulnerable Democrats in the midwest also pushed the Biden administration to raise tariffs on China. Meanwhile, Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has called for dramatically raising tariffs on China.

Now, Politico reported, the Biden administration “may have little choice but to double down on Trump’s approach.”

A trade lobbyist told the outlet that the administration had “painted itself into a corner.”

In April, Biden previewed his tariffs announcement at a campaign stop in Pennsylvania to steelworkers, a key historic voting block for Democrats.

The timing of the tariffs just before the election is not lost on Maier, whose factory is still mothballed as he hopes for more federal investment to get his factory up and running and able to produce the gloves.

“It’s just kind of curious that as election season is heating up, Biden is talking about the tariffs,” he said.

“The fact that you’re letting China gain even more market share keeps us up at night,” he said. “China keeps getting larger and larger on all these medical consumables. If we get into a larger trade war or something on Taiwan or one of those other issues, China has a very strong lever to pull. They can say, ‘Alright, we’ll shut down your healthcare system in about 45 days because we’re not going to send boats of all these supplies.”


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