Protecting America’s medical supplies is a bipartisan national security priority

America owes a debt to those who supply us. Facilities from the military to hospitals rely on imports from a variety of countries, and not all are friendly. If we rely on non-allied countries for critical goods, we are vulnerable. We can only improve this reality through bipartisan cooperation; it brought together a Republican from Tennessee and a Democrat from California.

The pandemic has shown us how difficult and slow it is to reorganize complex international supply chains. Imagine how much worse the situation would be during an armed conflict and you will begin to understand our latest national security crisis.

The reasons for the crisis are not complex. Like any other buyer, the United States government is looking for the most stable suppliers with the lowest costs. Unfortunately, this has led to an over-reliance on goods like medical supplies made in countries, most notably China, which could arm the very supply chains that keep us alive.

The escalating tensions between the United States and China have highlighted this vulnerability. If Americans’ access to essential medical and pharmaceutical supplies were suddenly cut off, our national security would be seriously jeopardized.

The United States needs to strengthen its life sciences supply chain by moving it to countries with which we have more friendly relations and strategic alignment. This process will result in turning diplomatic successes into strong economic relationships, and a promising opportunity has recently presented itself.

Workers produce antigen test kits for the coronavirus Covid-19 at a factory in Nantong, east China’s Jiangsu Province, December 19, 2022.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Brokered by the United States, the Abraham Accords established peaceful relations between our strong ally Israel and various Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa. Medical innovation and economic growth have been hot on the heels of these inflection points, and we are well positioned to reap the benefits.

If America pursues this bipartisan friendshoring solution, the first step would involve establishing an FDA office in the Middle East. By establishing a base there, we are diversifying our offshore medical and life sciences supply chain while shifting our dependence on China.

Both Israel and the United Arab Emirates have robust biopharmaceutical industries that make them natural allies in the United States’ quest to secure its access to vital medical products, now mostly made in China.

These allies also have cutting-edge medical technology, research and development. With the FDA in their neighborhood to expedite regulatory reviews and partnerships, Americans would enjoy expanded access to life-saving medical technologies while accelerating breakthrough healthcare and biomedical technologies.

It would also result in the manufacture of high-demand healthcare products for sale in the United States, including biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics, and nutraceuticals.

We have to start this process as soon as possible because we have a big hill to climb.

Currently, active pharmaceutical ingredients imported from China account for about 90 percent of America’s supply of life-saving antibiotics such as penicillin, azithromycin and cephalosporins. It should also be noted that in 2019 China was responsible for 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91 percent of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of acetaminophen, 40–45 percent of penicillin, and 40 percent of heparin.

That same year, a report by an FDA-commissioned task force claimed that drug shortages were an ongoing problem and difficult to solve, often for years.

A major challenge is that we do not have a comprehensive list of all biopharmaceutical products made in China and imported from the US. The suspicious absence of this vital list begs the question: who is hiding what and why? Who is responsible for maintaining accountability for this critical supply chain inventory?

If China imposed even a minor disruption on the United States, the American people and military would find themselves acutely vulnerable and unprepared.

Tying some of our pharmaceutical supplies to Abraham Accord countries, including Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, will make America safer.

This friendly cooperation will not completely solve America’s dependence on China, but notable precedents have already been set. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 included the Expanding Medical Partnerships with Israel to Lessen Dependence on China Act, which authorizes $4,000,000 annually to support collaborative life science research.

We see our situation as a tremendous bipartisan opportunity to strengthen our national security while increasing America’s access to innovation and cutting-edge medical technology – but the clock is ticking fast.

Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), who serves on the Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Diane Harshbarger (R-TN), who serves on the Energy and Trade Committee, recently returned from a USIEA non-partisan congress trip to Israel.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own. Protecting America’s medical supplies is a bipartisan national security priority

Rick Schindler

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