French manufacturers have been asking for this measure for over a year. A circular now establishes rules for calls for tenders which will encourage the 3,000 hospitals and clinics in the territory to buy their masks and gloves from French or European suppliers. With this incentive, the government wants to create a local sector guaranteeing “Supply in the event of a new global pandemic”.
The circular “Relating to the securing of the process of purchasing critical supplies and equipment”, made public on Thursday, December 30 and dated the 15th, was sent to all regional health authorities, which oversee hospitals in their territories.
Initially, the equipment identified as critical are sanitary gloves, as well as surgical masks and FFP2 masks, more airtight and more filtering, which protect both the wearer and those around them.
“Heavy penalties” planned
The specifications of the purchasing authorities should not only be based on the low price. They will also have to be more demanding on compliance with European standards, quality control of masks, minimum levels of available stocks, the carbon footprint of masks, use of water and delivery times, lists the circular. From “Heavy penalties” will be considered in the event of a high rate of non-compliance with the technical quality requirements of the equipment, or the specified delivery times.
These purchasing methods are applicable in calls for tenders ” with immediate effect “ at “All public health establishments and public pooled purchasing operators intervening for the benefit or on behalf of health establishments”, specifies the text.
The Union of French Mask Manufacturers F2M welcomed the measure, already implemented in several other European countries. “Between summer 2020 and summer 2021, 97% of calls for tenders were allocated to import masks, ordered mainly by local authorities”, recalled Christian Curiel, president of the union and general manager of the company Prism, based in Frontignan (Hérault).
In France, “From April to early November, the production of FFP2 masks was almost at a standstill, all because public orders continued to focus on imports” cheaper, but of different quality, he explained to Agence France-Presse. In parallel, “Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has always reserved its public purchases for local producers based on the state of emergency”.
Autonomous France in its production
The commercial setbacks of French manufacturers over imported masks have forced some of them “To divide their staff by ten”, according to Curiel. A cruel paradox in a country which has nevertheless managed in a few months to achieve the objective set by President Emmanuel Macron to become autonomous in its production of masks in the face of the health crisis. Indeed, while they produced only 3.5 million masks before the pandemic, French manufacturers now have the capacity to produce 100 million units per week, including 20 to 25% of FFP2 masks.
Orders have, however, started to rise again since November, in particular due to “The logistical difficulty of having containers” shipping for import, according to the union leader. Currently, the French manufacturers of surgical masks thus produce at “50% of their capacities”, and those who make FFP2 masks produce “A few million masks per week”, he clarified.
Masks made in France remain “Two to three times more expensive” than those imported: between 4 and 10 cents per unit against 2 to 4 cents for Chinese masks. “But 75% of their value remains in France, against only 15% for a mask from Asia”, according to M. Curiel.