Zhang Qing, a senior Chinese aviation regulator, said the Chinese government was making it easier for air freighters to move in and out of the country. Airlines are even operating passenger aircraft as freighters, she said.
But China wants the United States to provide the planes for any large-scale shipments of personal protective equipment. Ren Hong, an infrastructure development inspector at the National Development and Reform Commission, said China had only 173 air freighters while the United States had more than 550.
“The development of all-cargo aircraft in China is only in the initial stage,” she said.
Regulations can cause confusion. For example, importers are still parsing shifting United States regulations regarding respirators designed for use within China.
Fredrik Barner, a Shanghai freight agent, said he refused to arrange shipping last week for a cargo of respirators because the American buyer did not have a Food and Drug Administration license for importing medical supplies. He reversed course this week after learning that the cargo involved an industrial grade of respirator that the F.D.A. is now allowing to be imported in most cases without a license.
Transportation of respirators or masks, Mr. Barner said, is “more complicated than auto parts.”
Even though many hospitals in the United States are desperate for masks, selling to them isn’t always easy.
Deals have stalled because hospitals, accustomed to paying for supplies after they reach their loading docks, have balked at the stiff terms now being demanded by factories, mask traders said. They also fear fraud.
Producers of N95 respirators and surgical masks now insist that orders come with a 50 percent down payment, with the rest of the money due before the masks ever leave the factory gate, said Michael Crotty, the founder and president of Golden Pacific Fashion & Design in Shanghai. The company has switched from manufacturing curtains to placing orders for respirators and masks with its Chinese fabric suppliers.