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Dangerous Imports to Be Discussed at Public Meeting

Aug 31, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Dangerous and defective imports have made headlines all summer, prompting many to demand that the government take more action to protect US consumers.   Now, Americans are going to be given a chance to air their concerns about this urgent issue.  The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety will hold a public meeting in October to discuss recent problems regarding dangerous and defective imports.  

The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety was established by the White House in July to conduct a review of import safety programs and recommend ways that the safety of imports can be improved.   The group is chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, and includes officials from many other agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  The Working Group was established after several recalls of defective Chinese products raised concerns over import safety.  This year, tires, dog food and toothpaste from China have all been recalled.   Most troubling were toy recalls, including one that involved millions of dangerous toys distributed by Mattel.  Many of the toys contained dangerous amounts of lead, while others were made with hazardous magnets that could seriously injure children if they were swallowed.

The toy recalls, in particular, have increased calls for more scrutiny of imports.  Several members of Congress have called for mandatory testing of all imported toys.  Other legislators have proposed giving more power to the CPSC to police toy imports.   In the last two decades, the CPSC staff has dwindled from 900 to 400, and its budget stands at only $62 million annually.  Only 15 CPSC inspectors monitor imports at US ports, where millions of toys enter the country.   What’s more, the CPSC has fewer than 100 inspectors nationwide to monitor store shelves for defective items.  And because it has little enforcement power, the CPSC has to rely on profit-driven corporations to police themselves.  Surprisingly, it is usually manufacturers like Mattel that inform the CPSC of the need for a recall, not the other way around. And though the CPSC can impose fines on companies who willfully unleash defective products on American consumers, those fines are capped at under $2 million – pocket change for corporations that rack up millions of dollars in sales each day.

The public meeting is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on October 1 in Washington DC.   The public is welcome to attend, and anyone who wishes to speak will need to register.  The aim of the meeting is to identify and recommend actions that government, industry and consumers can take to promote the safety of imports

The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety is scheduled to release a Strategic Framework to promote import safety on September 17.   An action plan will be released in November to address public feedback and recommend actions to improve the safety of all imports.  


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