Playtime for Durbin

Capitol Hill Democrats seeking to use Mattel’s recent embarrassments as an excuse for increased government regulation run the risk of clogging free trade and seriously damaging U.S.-China economic relations.

Lawmakers charge that the toy maker’s second major recall this month illustrates a drastic need for intervention.

This sort of criticism is unwarranted. Product recalls are commonplace, both domestically, from Georgia’s recent peanut butter withdrawal to Nebraska’s recent beef recall, as well as internationally, such as India’s recent Nokia cell-phone battery recall. The Web site of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the government agency charged with ensuring consumer safety, lists 38 toy product recalls this year alone.

Our global economy is complex and uncompromising. When a company fails to deliver a safe, affordable product, it suffers in the form of public humiliation and a hit to profits, which was precisely what happened in the aftermath of the Mattel recalls. Mattel’s shares tumbled and the CEO of the Chinese company contracted with Mattel committed suicide.

In typical nanny-state fashion, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, has vowed to hastily cram through increased toy product certification requirements after Congress returns from recess. The bill Mr. Durbin is spearheading with Sens. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, and Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, would require private, non-governmental firms to certify that toys are safe and meet U.S. standards. It is ironic that Mr. Durbin would use private firms to further government strangulation of the free market. American toy companies and their Chinese manufacturers already have certification measures in place, and they have incentives, whether altruistic or not, to ensure their toys are safe.

Sadly, these days, attacking China is in vogue on both sides of the aisle. The irony is that there are more flawed products flowing into the United States from Mexico and India rather than China, to judge by press reports.

Toy makers, including the Toy Industry Association, have already taken great strides to ensure toy safety in China, which produces 80 percent of toys shipped to the United States. Over the last 12 years, the association has conducted toy-safety seminars in China to instruct factory managers on CPSC requirements. The association is working with Chinese authorities to develop stronger in-country testing inspections. With all the blustery rhetoric Mr. Durbin and other Democrats have produced this week, we hope the industry does not cower before a liberal Congress more interested in exerting government control than ensuring common-sense, affordable and safe solutions.

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