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U.S. Sets Up First Foreign Safety Commission In China

Mon, 01/10/2011 - 3:57am
Alexa Olesen, Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission will set up its first office outside the United States in China in a bid to reduce the amount of dangerous products reaching the American market.

Commission head Inez Tenenbaum told reporters Monday the "history-making" office also aims to make it easier for the U.S. to raise concerns with the Chinese government about product safety problems, such as faulty drywall and toxic metals in toys.

"Rather than rely on recalls to help us enforce our standards in the United States, (we will) move toward being more proactive and prevent problems from occurring in the first place," said Tenenbaum. "By having a proactive preventative posture, we can reduce the number of recalls and keep our consumers safe and also prevent the loss of revenue and damage to a manufacturer's brand."

Tenenbaum said choosing China as the commissions first overseas location made sense because 45 percent of the consumer products and 90 percent of all toys sold in the United States come from China and Hong Kong.

China has been working to improve foreign consumer confidence in its exports after a series of food and product safety scandals, such as tainted fish and the use of lead-based paints on toys and other goods.

The CPSC office, located within the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, will have just two employees to start, an attache and a safety specialist, who will work with their Chinese counterparts and help educate Chinese manufacturers about American product standards, Tenenbaum said.

U.S. recalls of Chinese products have fallen, from 230 in 2009 to 220 last year, signaling improvements in China's manufacturing oversight, Tenenbaum said. But concerns remain about Chinese lead-tainted products, poorly designed toys with small parts that could choke children, counterfeit electrical products, and children's clothes that have dangerous drawstrings or are made with flammable material.

Tenenbaum was to meet later Monday with officials from one of China's main product safety bodies, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Investigation and Quarantine, and said she would raise two major consumer product issues in the meeting.

The first was the continuing problem of toxic metals such as lead, cadmium and antimony showing up in Chinese-made toys sold in the U.S. Last year, there were only three recalls of Chinese products tainted with lead but U.S. regulations are about to become stricter as of August this year, limiting allowable lead levels to just 100 parts per million from the current allowed amount of 300 parts per million.

Another issue of concern is a floundering campaign by American consumers to get compensation for Chinese drywall that emitted noxious gases, damaging wiring and making homes unlivable. Thousands of American households were affected, mainly in Louisiana, as new buildings were constructed after Hurricane Katrina, and in Florida.

Tenenbaum said she has repeatedly asked for the Chinese government's help in getting 13 Chinese companies alleged to be responsible to respond to compensation demands but none have come forward.

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