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A couple is seen outside Smiths Medical, a global manufacturer of specialty medical devices, in Tijuana, Mexico on March 27, 2020. Mexico closed a U.S.-owned Smiths Medical factory in for allegedly refusing to sell ventilators to Mexican hospitals.

JORGE DUENES/Reuters

The northern Mexico border state of Baja California closed a plant run by the Anglo-American health care firm Smiths Medical Friday for allegedly refusing to sell ventilators to Mexican hospitals.

Baja California Gov. Jaime Bonilla said the firm refused to sell Mexico some of the machines, which are badly needed to treat patients with coronavirus.

Bonilla said the firm had continued to operate its assembly plant under the argument it provided an “essential” service, when most non-essential plants have been ordered closed to combat the pandemic.

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But Bonilla ordered the Smiths Medical factory closed, because he argued it was providing no such essential service to Mexicans, and thus was not obeying health emergency contingency measures.

“We said to them ‘if you want us to consider you essential, you have to provide some benefit to the people of Baja California, by selling us ventilators, because we need them,’” Bonilla said. “They said ‘no, we are not going to sell you anything, we are just going to continue to use your labour’.”

Bonilla accused the company of contacting Mexico’s foreign relations secretary and the U.S. Ambassador to try to stave off the closure order. But he vowed no to cave in to the pressure.

The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Industry sources have argued the factory is an export-only plant that operates under special rules that allow it to import raw materials and parts duty-free, on the condition they be re-exported and not sold on the local market.

Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the company is owned by U.K.-based Smiths Group plc.

Mexico now has 3,844 case of the new coronavirus, with 233 deaths nationwide.

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