China needs to effectively address its product safety problems, a U.S. lawmaker said Tuesday, as the country launched a campaign to weed out unqualified manufacturers amid a global recall of Chinese-made toys.
Toys are among a lengthening list of Chinese exports found to contain high levels of chemicals and toxins, triggering worldwide concerns and numerous recalls of goods from toothpaste to pet food ingredients.
"This is a very real problem," said Rep. Rick Larsen, who was on a weeklong visit to China. "It's visceral."
"It's about your child and it's about your pet and it's about food on the table," said Larsen, a Democrat from Washington State. "You can't get more personal than that for Americans, and so it does need to be addressed."
Larsen and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois are co-chairs of the U.S.-China Working Group, which is focusing on the expansion of export opportunities to China for small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses.
Larsen said the delegation met on Tuesday with officials from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, who said they recognized there was a problem and that it was being fixed.
Before Congress' August recess, Kirk introduced the bipartisan Import Safety Act of 2007, which would increase penalties against importers of contaminated goods by 100 times. Food and toy violations resulting in death would now mean fines of $50 million instead of $500,000.
Larsen urged U.S. importers to get more involved in the process or see their businesses suffer.
"If the American public does get to the point where they are in the Christmas season and specifically looking for products that are not made in China, that's going to be more than one Christmas season long," he said.
The legislation also provides funding to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for overseas inspections of processed foods and toothpaste.
China's crackdown on toy makers comes two weeks after Mattel Inc. recalled almost 19 million dolls, cars and action figures because they contained lead paint or tiny magnets that could damage organs if swallowed by children.
"An examination will be conducted across the country on licensed Chinese toy producers and exporters to clear out those unqualified ones," China's quality administration said on its Web site.
"Export toy quality certificates will be revoked for those companies who are found to have serious problems in quality management and product safety control," it said.
Chen Xitong, an administration official, said the program would begin Tuesday. He did not give any other details.
The crackdown is part of a four-month program aimed at improving overall quality — from food to drugs to consumer products — as China fights to shore up its battered reputation as a safe exporter.
The recall by Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, centered around 18.2 million Batman and Polly Pocket dolls, as well as Barbie play sets, which were pulled from the shelves because of a revision of international standards in May that required safety warnings for toys with magnets or magnetic components not attached tightly.
No injuries were reported in connection with the recall.
Another 436,000 toy "Sarge" cars, based on a character from the movie "Cars," were also recalled because they contained lead.
While Chinese officials have promised stricter supervision of the industry, they have also blamed what they say are varying global quality standards and faulty U.S. designs.
Li Changjiang, who heads the quality watchdog, said the recalled toys made up a small part of the 22 billion toys exported from China last year.