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The New York Times: Trump administration criticized for encouraging mask exports.

March 2, 2020

The Trump administration is grappling with whether to encourage the export of critical medical products like face masks and surgical gear to China — or save those supplies for the United States.

In a notice issued to American businesses last week, the Commerce Department advertised a change in Chinese regulations that would temporarily make it easier for American businesses to export medical products that are useful in battling the coronavirus to China, including protective gear, hand sanitizers and mask manufacturing machines.

The notice came under fire from Lloyd Doggett, a Democratic congressman from Texas, who said that it “seemingly conflicts” with congressional testimony by Alex Azar, the health secretary, who said that there was a shortage of face masks for medical professionals to use in the event of a coronavirus epidemic in the United States.

“Consistent with Trump downplaying the severity of this crisis, his Commerce Department is encouraging the export of the very protective gear already in short supply,” Mr. Doggett said in a statement.

The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to comment. But internal department communications obtained by Mr. Doggett’s office appeared to show that the department had second thoughts about the flyer.

“Please keep China procurement service flyer internal,” said the subject line of an email from Commerce’s domestic health care team. “I got a little too eager to promote it — please hold close until we receive an updated version. More info to come,” the email read.