Trump tariffs threaten to cost medical device industry billions

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President Donald Trump (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Trump’s proposed tariffs on Chinese imports could cost the medical device industry billions of dollars a year. Trump wants to slap 25% tariffs on imports of pacemakers, orthopedic implants and other devices to reverse perceived harm to the U.S. economy and force China to change its ways.

The action could have negative consequences for medical device manufacturers and the patients who use their products. Chinese-made products account for a significant minority of devices imported into the U.S. Some of the imported devices come from Chinese companies. Others are manufactured by Western companies with operations in China.

Estimates of the negative annual impact of the tariffs on the device industry range from RBC Capital Markets’ $1.5 billion to AdvaMed’s $5 billion. 

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The size of the estimates reflect changes in the Chinese medical device sector in recent years. Having started out manufacturing surgical gloves and other simple, disposable items, China is now a source of advanced products. If the tariffs come into force, the MRI and CT scanners, ultrasound machines and knee implants that now flow from China to the U.S. will be subject to a levy. 

That has caused consternation in the medical device industry.

“It’s fair to say manufacturers are disappointed because this action threatens to affect the health and well-being of American patients and those around the world,” Greg Crist, AdvaMed EVP of public affairs, told Medical Design & Outsourcing.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is giving medical device manufacturers and other interested parties a chance to comment on its proposals (PDF). The deadline for written comments is May 11. The USTR will hold a public hearing the following week.