China Agrees to Improve Product Safety – But Don't Lay-Off Your Sourcing Eyes on the Ground Just Yet

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that "China's consumer-safety agency, ... the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, ... at the urging of U.S. and European officials, plans to tighten product-safety regulations in an effort to stamp out defective and dangerous exports and to ease trade tensions between China and the U.S." The Chinese government "aims to provide [Chinese manufacturers] with safety and testing standards created in cooperation with the U.S. and the European Union" and promises to have their "three regional agencies plan to jointly create the new guidelines in the next six months..."

It's difficult to read such headlines without thinking in terms of butchered clichés like a decade late and a few billion dollars short -- to say nothing of far too many people sickened and dead. But what the heck, let's read it as better late than never. At a time when the U.S. and China continue to not harmonize to the same sheet music in any arena, it appears, according to The Journal, that "The agreement comes after U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, during a visit to China this week, pressed Chinese officials to step up oversight, citing [another] recent spate of tainted Chinese drywall." It goes on to state that "Regulators are particularly eager to rid products of materials containing high levels of caustic metal, such as lead and cadmium." Ms Tenebaum is quoted saying that "four out of five recalls of children's products still come from China..."

The U.S. Toy Industry Association gets to heart of the matter in the article, "suggest[ing] that the CPSC's focus should be on individual companies bringing products to market in the U.S., regardless of whether those companies are based in the U.S. or elsewhere. 'It's not countries that make toys, it's companies,' said spokesman Stacy Leistner." Perfect advice for companies sourcing and importing from Chinese manufacturers that also "make 80% of the toys sold in the U.S."

Since such corporate responsibility -- to both shareholders and consumers alike -- is inescapable, it's vital to remember that agreements like this one will not stamp out bribes and graft on the ground anytime soon. To wit, Ms Tenenbaum was quoted (here) on October 26, 2010 saying "consumer products will be safe only when everyone in the design, manufacturing and distribution chain does their job, ... More and more we are beginning to understand the wisdom in the saying: Safety starts at the source."

William Busch

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