- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

China yesterday agreed to act to eliminate lead paint in toys exported to the U.S. market and to take other actions, including increased inspections of consumer products headed for the United States, in documents signed as part of a consumer product “safety summit.”

The summit was the latest development in a months-long controversy over hazardous imported toys, food and other products from China and elsewhere, and it followed by a day a Cabinet-level advisory group’s release of a “strategic framework” to improve the safety of imports.

Toys of Chinese origin have been a particular focus of the controversy. Mattel Inc. said last week it was recalling several hundred thousand toys worldwide because of because of high lead levels. It followed two recalls covering millions of toys last month.

Yesterday’s documents included a joint statement on enhancing consumer product safety and work plans for cooperation on fireworks, toys, cigarette lighters and electrical products.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in addition to the lead-paint language, the documents include an agreement by China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine to increase its inspections of consumer products headed for the U.S. and to help the CPSC in tracing hazardous products to their Chinese manufacturers, distributors and exporters.

Acting CPSC Chairman Nancy Nord said the work plans show significant progress in efforts to bring Chinese products into line with U.S. safety rules.

“This is an important signal from the Chinese government that it is serious about working with CPSC to keep dangerous products out of American homes,” she said.

“We will be looking for meaningful cooperation on the ground — that means not just with the Chinese government, but also with industry at both ends of the supply chain.”

Lead paint has been banned on toys in the U.S. since 1978.

“It seems bizarre to have an agreement that codifies 30-year-old law,” said Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America. “Yes, lead should not be in children’s products, but I hope this isn’t too little, too late.”

The U.S. agreed to take up Chinese concerns that often the problems with toys come from faulty designs by U.S. toy makers.

“These toys are made to the specifications of American companies,” according to Wei Chuanzhong, vice minister of the Chinese agency.

The CPSC pledged to undertake “outreach” to U.S. toy companies and importers to stress their responsibility to evaluate product design and to test products.

The head of the Chinese agency said in Beijing yesterday that China has shut 2,000 unlicensed factories in the 19 days since it began a campaign against unsafe food, medicine and toys.

The increased pressure from the central government has also helped push local governments to take a tougher line on product safety after some were lenient on unlicensed food factories to boost economic growth and jobs, according to Zhang Yongjian of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The government should focus more on building mechanisms that can effectively prevent quality problems by being stricter with enforcing existing regulations and revamping a fragmented regulatory framework, said Mr. Zhang, director of the academy’s Research Center for the Development and Regulation of the Food and Drug Industry.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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