Government bans face mask exports

Government bans face mask exports

The government has slapped a ban on face mask exports to ensure sufficient domestic supply.

Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit on Thursday signed an announcement of the central committee on goods and services prices regarding face mask exports, banning the outbound shipment of face masks effective immediately.

The central committee, chaired by Mr Jurin, approved on Feb 3 the inclusion of face masks and alcohol-based hand sanitiser on the price control list.

Once on the price control list, manufacturers, distributors, exporters and importers have to notify the Internal Trade Department of production costs, sale prices, production volume, export/import volume and inventory.

Those who export more than 500 pieces need to gain prior approval from the department.

Similar measures are applied to hand sanitiser, except for the limit on export volume, as there are still adequate quantities for domestic demand.

The decision later won cabinet approval on Feb 11.

Mr Whichai said domestic demand for face masks has surged to 40-50 million pieces a month after the virus outbreak, up from 30 million a month previously, while the country makes about 30 million pieces a month.

Requests for permission to export flooded in after the order requiring exporters of more than 500 pieces to gain prior approval from the department became effective on Feb 6.

Between Feb 7 and 21, more than 100 exporters sought permission for export of as many as 32 million pieces, but Mr Whichai said the department has not granted permission to anyone.

He said authorities found that some exporters had switched to exporting fewer than 500 pieces and shipping several times a day.

Thailand shipped 226 million face masks in 2019, a 218% surge from 71 million masks in 2018.

According to Mr Whichai, a subcommittee has been jointly set up by the Commerce Ministry and Public Health Ministry to consider certain requests for mask shipments, such as to foreign embassies, neighbouring countries under aid programmes and non-profit organisations.

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