Sens. Cotton and Blackburn: Stop depending on China — here's how we end this threat

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed China’s ability to wreak havoc on the global economy and cut off our access to essential supplies.

The Chinese Communist Party’s malicious actions should come as no surprise. Decades of failed engagement, Western investment and unfair trade tactics built China into an industrial behemoth, giving the CCP control over the world’s supply of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and other basic goods.

The CCP has used cheap goods, manufactured with stolen technology, to buy the West’s silence about its appalling aggression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere.

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These problems are not new, but they have become more obvious, especially to the general public. It is now clear that our passive dependence on China for essential supplies poses a grave threat.

The United States must embrace policies that will secure global supply chains and revitalize industry at home. Congress should immediately focus on securing America’s pharmaceutical supply chain.

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While the United States has invested heavily in drug discovery and development, China has prioritized pharmaceutical manufacturing, giving massive support to domestic producers to undercut foreign competitors.

Most Americans would be shocked to learn that most active pharmaceutical ingredients — or, “APIs,” the building blocks of drugs — are made in China; 95 percent of imports of ibuprofen, 70 percent of acetaminophen, and between 40 percent and 45 percent of penicillin come directly from China. Only 28 percent of facilities making API are located in the U.S.

This level of dependence is dangerous, but we cannot simply wish away this problem with a one-size-fits-all mandate. Instead, Congress should consider more targeted bills to support an industry that has long been in crisis.

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We have two bills to do just that. The Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet (SAM-C) Act and Protecting our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain from China Act would set predictable guidelines for the pharmaceutical industry, incentivize domestic drug manufacturing and give federal agencies the tools they need to protect American patients from unsafe Chinese drugs.

Right now, the Food and Drug Administration can’t calculate how dependent American pharmaceutical companies are on Chinese APIs. The Protecting our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain from China Act would make this information available by requiring companies to disclose the sources for their APIs and finished drug products.

Eventually, the bill would prohibit federal health programs like VA hospitals and Medicare from purchasing drugs made with APIs from China.

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Regulations alone could come at a great cost, so incentives and other long-term support for American companies must accompany these changes. In addition to expensing allowances for domestic manufacturing included in the Protecting our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain from China Act, the SAM-C Act would expand existing FDA programs to approve Advanced Manufacturing Pharmaceutical Technologies. These new processes will allow scientists and engineers to prevent critical drug shortages and bring pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs back to the United States. The legislation also authorizes a $100 million budget for workforce development and training.

The pandemic has altered our relationship with China fundamentally, and our attitudes and policies must change. Every day the CCP controls our access to essential medicine is a day that American patients are at risk.

Republican Marsha Blackburn represents Tennessee in the U.S. Senate

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