The coronavirus pandemic has caused a global scramble for essential medical supplies like masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators.
In the panic, governments have imposed or considered new barriers to trade, trying to protect their own access to scarce supplies.
As of March 21, one trade policy group had calculated that 54 governments had placed limits on the exporting of medical goods. The U.S. joined the trend late last week, with an order directing companies not to sell respirators, masks or gloves overseas.
It is a tactic that may backfire, according to some manufacturers and trade analysts.
“All it takes is some other country out there to say, ‘Oh, you’re going to impose a limit on what you sell to us, [say] masks? Well, then, we’re going to restrict our exports to you of gloves. Or gowns. Or thermometers,” says Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.