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CPSC, China Reach Import Safety Agreement

Sep 12, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
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China and the US have announced a new import safety agreement that includes a pledge from the Chinese to eliminate the use of lead paint in toys it sends to this country.   Nancy Nord, acting chair of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), touted the agreement as a “beginning, not an end” and said it represented a new opportunity for Chinese and US agencies to cooperate on product safety.

The agreement also contains provisions allowing the CPSC and Chinese regulatory agencies to share product safety, design and recall information.   The new pact is in response to a recent wave of recalls in the US for defective products imported from China.   Starting August 1, Mattel issued three separate recalls in just a 5-week span for Chinese-made toys that contained toxic lead paint or hazardous magnets.  Other recalls have included poisonous pet foods, chemical-laced toothpaste, faulty tires and other dangerous toys.   The recalls have prompted calls for more regulation, if not an outright ban, of Chinese products.   The safety scares have also highlighted the limited power that the CPSC has when it comes to regulating imports.

Under the new import safety agreement, the CPSC will train Chinese safety inspectors.  The CPSC said that such training will bring the Chinese up to speed on US safety regulations.   The agreement also prohibits the use of lead paint on toys meant for export to the US.  Li Changjiang, China’s safety inspection chief, maintained that problems with lead painted toys stemmed in part from differing lead standards.  International standards limits lead in toy coatings to only 90 milligrams per kilogram, while the U.S. standard allows 600 milligrams per kilogram.  However, unlike the international standards, the US specifications apply to all of a toy’s components, not just its coating.  Li said that China will work with the CPSC to develop a unifying lead standard.  Li pledged that the new standards will be in place in time for the US holiday shopping season.

While Nord touted the pact as an opportunity to greatly improve import safety, she also acknowledged that the CPSC only regulates consumer goods, and that food and agricultural imports were not included in the agreement.   Those items, including melamine-tainted wheat gluten, pesticide-laced produce and contaminated seafood, also caused concerns over Chinese imports.   But the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture oversee those products, and both of those agencies are in separate talks with the Chinese.  The FDA has also started to reorganize and streamline its food inspection systems, and a White House panel has been charged with making recommendations to improve import safety.

Today, the US Senate will hold hearings on the issue of toy safety.  The hearings will focus on the CPSC’s ability to regulate imports, and it is expected to result in calls to increase that agency’s enforcement powers.

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