Trump tells GM: Stop ‘wasting time’, build ventilators to address coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A ventilator is seen at the New York City Emergency Management Warehouse, where 400 ventilators arrived and before being shipped out for distribution, due to concerns over the rapid spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/File Photo

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday invoked emergency powers to require General Motors Co (GM.N) to build much-needed ventilators for coronavirus patients after he accused the largest U.S. automaker of “wasting time” during negotiations.

Trump, who has been on the defensive for not moving faster to compel the production of medical equipment, for the first time invoked the Defense Production Act, saying GM was not moving quickly enough even though earlier on Friday the largest U.S. automaker announced it would begin building ventilators in the coming weeks.

Asked about negotiations with GM over ventilators, Trump expressed anger with the company’s decision to close an assembly plant in politically important Ohio. He also criticized GM’s prior decisions to build plants outside the United States.

“I didn’t go into it with a favorable view,” Trump told a news conference of the GM talks. White House adviser Peter Navarro said the administration ran into “roadblocks” with GM this week.

GM said in a statement in response to Trump that it has been working with ventilator firm Ventec Life Systems and GM suppliers “around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need” and said its commitment to Ventec’s ventilators “has never wavered.”

The act grants the president power to expand industrial production of any key materials or products for national security and other reasons.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other Democrats have urged him to invoke the act, but the president had been reluctant to do so until now.

Democratic U.S. Senator Ed Markey said, “About time. Now, tell us every day: which companies will be making more of this equipment, how much is being made, and where the equipment is going.”

On Friday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States topped 100,000, the highest in the world according to a Reuters tally. The U.S. death toll topped 1,550.

Trump also said countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy need ventilators and that if the excess volume is not needed, the United States can export them.

Earlier, Trump lashed out at GM and Ford Motor Co F.M for moving too slowly just hours before GM said it would build medical equipment at an Indiana plant.

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