President Donald Trump on Sunday held a call with two dozen executives from consumer and grocery companies including Target, Campbell and Costco to discuss topics including hoarding and the safety of their supply chain amid the coronavirus crisis.
Trump, in a press conference Sunday, urged Americans to ease up with their shopping as people panic about not having enough food or household items while they are increasingly being asked to stay at home for extended periods of times.
“You don’t have to buy so much,” Trump said. “Take it easy. Relax.”
He added: “Go and buy. Enjoy it. Have a nice dinner. Relax.”
As Americans have fretted about quarantines and shortages, they’ve raided online and brick-and-mortar retailers, leaving shelves unstocked and warehouses short. Amazon said it is out of stock on certain household items. Chains like Texas grocer H-E-B has had to limit purchases some food items, including eggs, boxed pasta and canned soup. Fears of product shortages have also led people to steal products like hand sanitizer and surgical masks from grocery stores and doctors’ offices.
“The President reminded the participants that this is an all-of-America approach and each of their stores and the stores they support can help Americans feel calm and safe when shelves are stocked with the items they need,” a White House spokesman said.
“Supply chains in the United States are strong, and it is unnecessary for the American public to hoard daily essentials,” he added.
A spokesperson for Campbell said, in the meeting, the company “outlined the steps we are taking to ensure the health and safety of our employees and how we are meeting the increased demand for our foods in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
An industry trade group, Consumer Brands Association, which represents companies including Lysol-owner Reckitt Benckiser and Clorox, requested funds in upcoming supplemental appropriations to “mitigate supply chain disruptions” and help manage shortages.
Trump agreed in the call to hold off for six months on new regulatory decisions that could hinder supply chains, according to a letter from the group to Trump that was obtained by CNBC.
Later Sunday, Consumer Brands Association also sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, urging them to fight global export restrictions on any product used to treat or prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The U.S. supply chain for consumer companies is heavily reliant on foreign production. As countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic, some have already begun to restrict their exports. Germany has banned the export of protective medical products including masks, gloves and suits. France, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia have enacted similar export restrictions in recent days.
“If other countries were to follow suit by significantly disrupting the supply chain of these critical ingredients, it could substantially increase the risk of product shortages in the United States, and thus pose a serious threat to the public health,” wrote Bryan Zumwalt, executive vice president of public affairs for the Consumer Brands Association.
Consumer Brands Association wants Pompeo and Lightizer to determine which products are facing a possible export ban, and what the impact of that ban may be. They also want the leaders to “take appropriate action” should they determine that any export restriction is in violation of a trade agreement.
They want them to considering lifting tariffs that may be adding an extra burden to the supply chain.
The letter comes as lawmakers are also raising increasing concern about possible drug shortages, due to U.S pharmaceutical reliance on foreign manufacturing. About 72% of manufacturers of pharmaceutical ingredients supplying the U.S. are overseas, including 13% in China, according to FDA testimony last year.