President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday that calls for a review of U.S. supply chains for large-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and semiconductors that power cars, phones, military equipment and other goods.

What You Need To Know

  • President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to review U.S. supply chains for pharmaceuticals, semiconductors and other vital goods

  • The U.S. has become reliant on imports of these goods — a potential national security and economic risk that the administration says it hopes to address

  • The order signed Wednesday will include reviews to be completed within one year for defense, public health and biological preparedness, plus other sectors

The United States has become increasingly reliant on imports of these goods — a potential national security and economic risk that the Biden administration hopes to address with the planned 100-day review and the possibility of increased domestic production.

Before signing Wednesday's order, President Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have worked on the issue at the White House.

"This is a critical area where Republicans and Democrats agreed. It was the best meeting I think we've had so far," the president said. "It's like the old days, people actually on the same page."

Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Braun (R-IN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA) all attended, as well as Representatives John Joyce (R-PA), Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX).

"The president was very receptive, as was the vice president," Sen. Cornyn told reporters after the meeting. "He said, 'We're all in.' We all understand this is important, not only to our economy but to our national security."

The order signed Wednesday will include sectoral reviews to be completed within one year for defense, public health and biological preparedness, information communications technology, energy, transportation and food production.

"It's about making sure the United States can meet every challenge we face in this new era — pandemics, but also in defense, cybersecurity, climate change, and so much more," President Biden said before signing the executive order. "And the best way to do that is by protecting and sharpening America's competitive edge."

Earlier, two of Biden's top economic advisors spoke to reporters about how the executive order would result in changes to the supply chain.

“We are going to get out of the business of reacting to supply chain crises as they arise and get into the business of preventing future supply chain problems," Senior Director for International Economics and Competitiveness Peter Harrell told reporters Wednesday. "Make no mistake, we are not simply planning to order up reports. We are going to be taking actions to close gaps as we identify them.” 

The solutions will vary by sector, Harrell added, saying the administration will likely put forward a comprehensive suite of recommendations that will be tailored for each of the different critical goods” upon completion of the review.

While most of the supply chain revamp will focus on producing supplies domestically, Biden will also look to work with international partners to ensure a stable and reliable working economy. Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Sameera Fazili said the solutions for supply weaknesses will not always be to “ramp up domestic production," telling reporters: “This is not going to be about America going it alone.”

Over the past year, the fragility of vital supply chains has been revealed repeatedly. The coronavirus outbreak led to an initial shortage of masks, gloves and other protective medical equipment. Automakers in the United States and Europe are now dealing with a shortage of computer chips.

Administration officials have met with automakers and are talking with foreign counterparts on how to boost supplies in the short term. But there is no magic bullet to immediately fixing the lack of semiconductors for automakers, an administration official said.

The chip shortage is indicative as to why Biden is trying to be proactive with the reviews, so that they can strengthen the supply chains to prevent additional challenges from emerging. Administration officials say that they plan to partner with industry and members of Congress as part of the effort and that no tool is off the table, including the use of the Defense Production Act.

Nearly every major automaker that produces vehicles in the U.S. has cut production because of the shortage by canceling shifts, slowing assembly line speeds or temporarily closing factories. Most automakers have tried to limit the cuts to slower-selling vehicles.

But the shortage has forced the Ford Motor Co. to at times cancel shifts at two plants that make the F-Series pickup truck, the top-selling vehicle in the nation. Besides Ford, Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler), General Motors, Toyota and Honda have had to slow production.

Some are building vehicles without computer chips, which control engines, brakes, transmissions and other tasks, so they can be installed once more semiconductors are available.

The chip shortage has cost the global auto industry the production of about 1 million vehicles, according to IHS Markit. The analytics firm expects the chip crisis to hit bottom toward the end of March, with supplies constrained into the third quarter.

IHS Markit expects the lost production could be made up later in the year. But the shortage could compound already tight vehicle inventories in the U.S., driving up prices that rose when factories were closed last year due to the novel coronavirus.

Moody's predicts that the chip shortage will cost Ford and General Motors about one-third of their pretax earnings this year. It also expects electric vehicle maker Tesla to be affected, although less than GM and Ford.

The U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association says the country’s share of global chip manufacturing capacity has dropped from 37% in 1990 to 12% today. The association wants Washington to fund domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research and pass an investment tax credit to help build and modernize chip factories in the U.S.

The wrangling over semiconductors dovetails with China's economic rise as it became a manufacturing center for electronics. Chinese companies began to account for half of global semiconductor consumption in 2012, and demand has grown as China makes 90% of all smartphones, 67% of all smart televisions and 65% of all personal computers, noted a 2020 research paper by Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.


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