China’s mask makers struggle after price drop

BEIJING, Aug 8, 2020 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of mask-making companies mushroomed across China at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but many are struggling to survive as they face stricter quality control measures and falling domestic demand.

China launched a huge effort to produce protective gear to meet shortages during the outbreak, which first emerged in the country late last year before spreading across the globe.

More than 73,000 companies registered as mask makers in the first half of the year — including over 36,000 new companies in April alone — as prices and demand soared.

But the influx of new companies led to a “dilution in quality and a surge in scams”, according to China-based researchers at Daxue Consulting, as firms from carmakers to diaper producers converted production lines to make masks.

Now the outbreak is largely under control in mainland China, domestic mask demand has dropped dramatically, pushing prices down.

“Our orders have been slashed five or sixfold since April,” said Yang Hao, a sales director at CCST, a company in the southern city of Shenzhen that makes air purifiers but added masks to its repertoire.

“We do not need to produce masks days and nights every day now.”

Some of the companies that piled into the industry are now backing out.

China Labour Bulletin, which tracks worker unrest in the mainland, said there had been a number of protests in recent months due to some mask factories closing abruptly and leaving staff unpaid.

Companies contacted by AFP said orders had dropped significantly and some said they were refocusing their business.

“Our company has several business lines, we stepped up the production of masks when the pandemic hard-hit China, but we will shift back to our other productions in the future,” said one sales director surnamed Xu at a company that makes medical products in northern Hebei province.