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Biden Executive Order Seeks Fixes For Shortfalls Of Foreign-Made Items

NOEL KING, HOST:

If you think back to the early days of the pandemic, one of the biggest shocks was that medical workers ran out of basic stuff like masks and gloves. That is motivating a new executive order from President Biden. He wants a broad review of sectors where shortages have put Americans at risk. White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering this one. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So supply chains are low-key fascinating. And now we have an executive order examining them. What's going on?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it sounds kind of wonky, but this is a review of some of the things that are really important to the economy, to the public health, to national security. You know, as you note, it became very clear during the pandemic how dependent the United States is on foreign suppliers, like things like medical supplies. And more recently, there have been shortages of semiconductors, which are these computer chips for everything from cars to phones to even toasters. And there have been furloughs at auto plants because of the shortages on computer chips, not toasters, of course. But both crises have showed the need to make sure supply chains are more secure. I talked to John Neuffer. He's the head of the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents big chipmakers like Micron and Qualcomm.

JOHN NEUFFER: For the long term, I think what the review is going to find is we need to have more semiconductors made here in the good ol' U.S. of A. Right now, most of them are made overseas. And I think this pandemic has put in focus the reality that some of our supply chains need to be rebalanced.

ORDOÑEZ: And this is something that the order is going to look at.

KING: And it's not just, to be clear, pandemic supplies.

ORDOÑEZ: Yes. Officials told us last night there will be other items studied, like batteries used in electric cars, pharmaceutical ingredients and what's known as rare Earth minerals used in everything from phones to military weapons. And the administration is going to come up with recommendations on how to invest in domestic manufacturing.

KING: Of course, China is the biggest producer of rare Earth minerals. How much of this review is about the U.S.' ongoing competition with China?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the executive order won't mention China by name, but it's very much about countering the United States' biggest economic rival. In some areas, the United States has become too dependent on competitors like China, and that creates vulnerabilities. I talked to Evan Medeiros about this. He led Asia policy in the Obama White House. He said the Biden team is trying to balance economic interdependence with China, which it sees as its biggest competitor and an increasing national security threat.

EVAN MEDEIROS: Biden starts out by framing it in this way. But the economic realities of the world, you know, are such that it's not really us versus them because we have a $650 billion trading relationship with the country that's at the heart of what Biden says is a resurgence in authoritarianism.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, Medeiros said it's not practical for the United States and Western allies to cut off China, but there are ways to be less dependent.

KING: And so what are the first steps of this executive order?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, we expect to see President Biden talk about this today in a meeting with lawmakers. And in the next 100 days, the administration will first review things like semiconductors and drugs. And then over the next year, they'll do a deeper review on important industries like defense, energy and transportation. And those are just some examples. You know, along the way, there will also be discussions on recommendations about what exactly to do to address these vulnerabilities, including investments in some of these sectors. You know, officials told us, you know, there's no magic bullet to solve this issue, but the United States can't just keep reacting to crisis after crisis. And they've got to get ahead of this.

KING: Not in an interconnected world. NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.