Putian shoe and clothing manufacturers switch to medical supplies, calling for strengthening export supervision

China Economic Weekly reporter Deng Yaman | Fujian Report

With the spread of the New Coronary Pneumonia epidemic worldwide, the demand for medical materials such as masks, protective clothing, and ventilators in various countries around the world is growing rapidly.

As a "world factory", medical materials produced in China are shipped to the world, and more and more conversion factories have become the main production forces. According to the data of Tianyan check, from February 1 to March 15, 2020, more than 28,000 domestic enterprises have added new medical supplies-related businesses.

But at the same time, controversy about the export of medical supplies is also increasing. As the performance of the antibody test kits was not as expected, Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic successively proposed to "return the goods" and suspend imports of domestic test kits, masks and other medical materials.

In the face of similar incidents, domestic supervision is being strengthened: the Ministry of Commerce, the General Administration of Customs, and the State Food and Drug Administration jointly issued a document to export new coronavirus detection reagents, medical masks, medical protective clothing, breathing The enterprises of electronic thermometers and infrared thermometers must provide written or electronic declarations when they declare to the customs, promising that the exported products have obtained the registration certificate of China's medical device products and the quality meets the standards required by the exporting country.

Wang Gang was the head of the earliest batch of factories in China that converted medical masks and protective clothing and other medical materials. Like dozens of factories in Putian, Fujian, they began to transform their production lines on January 30, and began production on February 9, mid-February. Started exporting medical materials to foreign countries.

Putian City is the most concentrated production base for shoes, apparel, and diapers in the southeast region of China, and the processing trade market is also very developed. But before the outbreak, this city of 3 million people did not have a mask manufacturing factory.

In the more than 40 days of exporting his medical materials to European countries, Wang Gang's deepest feeling was "chaos": chaotic medical materials standards, chaotic order sources, and unknown product production prospects.

However, because the income from export is much higher than that of domestic sales, he was not willing to let go of this market because he was already engaged in the processing trade industry. For nearly half a month, Wang Gang's main job every day is to find raw materials that meet export standards and orders with higher profits. The following is his dictation:

"Chinese Standard" and "Other Standards"

In the process of purchasing the raw materials for medical masks—the special melt-blown cloth with a weight of 50g, I encountered many “pits”.

Our docking export customers are mainly from European countries, including Italy and other countries. The masks they order are mainly medical, so the raw material requirements are relatively high. The most important quality standard in the purchase contract is "melt-blown non-woven fabrics must meet YY046-2011 Technical Standards for Medical Masks, that is, at least 50g.

Many domestic raw material factories provide products with a weight of 20g-25g, which is our daily civilian mask standard. Although it does not reach the standard of 50g, there are still many people selling to the factory. It is also a meltblown cloth, but the quality of the raw materials is different, and the protective effect is also different.

Not only that, for some “new material” masks emerging in China, such as PTEE nanofiber membrane materials, graphene material masks, etc., although some have been certified by official institutions, compliance with “Chinese standards” does not necessarily mean compliance with “exporting countries” standard". European customers generally do not accept "new materials" highly. One is because the quality of masks may involve the life safety of users. The second is because they have limited knowledge of these materials and are in doubt.

Even our own factories do not dare to accept such "new materials". Because the source of the salesperson ’s material is not very secure, is it really from the factory named by the official? Not necessarily, even some salesmen will say "the mask can be reused 10 times" or the like, from the perspective of our manufacturing plant, this is not very reliable, because only mask recycling and disinfection is a complicated Process. And verifying whether the "new material" is really effective will definitely take some time and cost.

When I first started converting, I almost purchased materials that did not meet the standards. On one occasion, the other party said that he was an employee of the "Sinopec Plant" and that he had extra raw materials to sell. I believe it was true, because Sinopec was the oldest raw material producer in the industry, and later found out that it was just a small plant with a melt-blown cloth weighing 20g. After gradually understanding this industry, I knew that the raw material factories designated by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology basically connected to large manufacturing factories, and the possibility of employees "selling" was very small.

Not only is there a problem with the standard for the export of masks, other materials such as medical protective clothing also have different standards for differentiation, but compared with masks, we do not lack petrochemical plastics, and the skills of producing ready-made clothes are relatively mature, so there are fewer problems encountered in production. Therefore, to meet the medical material export standards, whether the raw materials can meet the "Chinese standards" and "other countries' standards" is very important.

Repeated orders and new entrants

Although there is no shortage of orders in hand, it is not an easy task to find suitable orders. Because of the limited production scale, the orders we get are basically hundreds of thousands to one million, but there is a problem in the middle: after the order is changed several times, the profit that our producers can get is very low .

This leads to a phenomenon: Even for the same quantity and category of goods, the final profit is quite different. The profit of medical protective clothing is 100 pieces / piece or 20 pieces / piece, which often depends on how many hands it is transferred. Therefore, we hope to be able to get more first-hand orders, such as corporate donation orders to Italy.

But this is not an easy task. Many industries are not easy to do this year, and many manufacturing and trading companies are pouring into the medical supplies industry. As of March 22, there were more than 60,000 domestic mask manufacturing companies alone, and many companies were preparing to enter the game, and competition was fierce. After they get the order, they may not want to produce and cannot digest it before they change hands.

Our advantage lies in the earlier production transition. At that time, the supervision department of Putian has been guiding us how to register and apply for various qualification certificates at home and abroad, so now the certificates we have are basically complete, including domestic, US FDA and Europe CE certification, etc.

After the implementation of the medical material export policy on April 1, basically the domestic enterprises that can "guarantee" the export qualification of medical materials mainly leave the import and export medical companies and professional medical material manufacturing factories. The relatively stable orders we received are mainly From the import and export medical company.

The cross-border qualifications of import and export medical companies can solve many problems: especially in countries that guarantee the transportation of medical materials, they can let your goods finally reach the customers when most ports and shipping are closed.

Other orders are not very stable, many companies will take the initiative to come to us to make resale orders, we will try to choose high profits; in addition, we are also opening up other customers.

The epidemic determines the production prospects

I don't know how long I can do it, it depends on the epidemic. After the epidemic improves, the demand will definitely decline gradually, and we have to consider other products, such as the original clothing processing.

If there is another thing to be thankful for in 2020, it is to decide early to convert to medical supplies, otherwise, the loss of the garment factory will definitely be particularly serious, and because of the rise in the prices of raw materials and equipment, the production will be transferred to the back. The higher the cost.

The initial conversion of medical supplies was purely to meet the domestic demand market. Putian City, where I am located, is the most concentrated production base for shoes, clothing and diapers in the Southeast, and the processing trade market is also very developed. But before the outbreak, this city of 3 million people did not have a mask manufacturing factory.

Therefore, after returning to the factory on the fifth day of the new year, we quickly invested in the development and production of masks. Originally, I was operating a clothing factory. It was more convenient and cheaper to switch to medical protective clothing. However, it is expected that the domestic demand for masks will be greater and the local government will give a lot of help.

For the manufacturing plant, the mask production process is not complicated. At that time, a batch of non-woven fabrics and melt-blown fabrics that met the mask production standards were also purchased, but the professional equipment was "difficult to find in one machine." Fortunately, our technical workers are very flexible in their transformation ideas, and know how to transform equipment to replace "mask machines". As of February 10, the daily production of Putian's autonomous masks reached about 2 million.

After the domestic epidemic situation gradually stabilized, we thought about exporting excess production capacity, but we did not expect that the foreign epidemic situation was so serious, and the export demand increased significantly in the short term, so we are still learning a lot of things, not So perfect.

What I think more now is to earn as much as possible when I can. Because many industries are difficult this year, it may be possible to rely on these profits to eat.

Editor-in-Chief | Lu Jiangtao