China won’t restrict exports of medical goods needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, a government spokesman said Thursday, amid global tension over scarce masks and ventilators.

China, the biggest maker of surgical masks and other products, announced last week it would start inspecting exports to make sure they meet quality standards following Western complaints some test kits and other products were faulty.

“China has not and will not restrict the export of epidemic prevention materials,” said a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Gao Feng.

The government hasn’t responded to questions about whether inspections might increase the time required to fill foreign orders, but Gao said Beijing has taken steps to “speed up customs clearance” while “ensuring the export quality of epidemic prevention materials.”

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U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a call with top Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi on Wednesday, have expressed frustration with bureaucratic and other hurdles that American companies are facing in trying to export goods made in their Chinese plants that are considered key to fighting the pandemic.

Officials have made the point that the products, including PPE, are being made by American manufacturers in China and that the companies should be allowed to export them as they see fit.

President Donald Trump said this month he would try to block manufacturing giant 3M Co. from exporting N95 masks to other countries. 3M warned other governments might retaliate and said later an agreement was reached to allow foreign sales.

The Chinese customs agency said last week it would start treating masks, ventilators, surgical gowns, goggles and other supplies as medical goods.

That requires exporters to submit proof that their products are approved by regulators in destination countries. The government said goods will be inspected to confirm they meet quality standards before they are exported.

AP News

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