11 June 2008
BEIJING – The European Union’s top consumer protection official on Wednesday urged China to invest more in product safety for its myriad small producers.
EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said Europe was monitoring whether China’s steps to improve its safety record would deliver results to consumers in Europe.
“The strongest signal is about the low end of the market. These small enterprises that cannot afford to invest in quality,” Kuneva told reporters in Beijing, where she met with Chinese counterparts.
In such cases, the government needs to step in and “invest in safety,” she said.
Kuneva said China had made improvements in its system for tracking the origin of products, thus better guaranteeing the supply chain, but that more time was needed to judge the impact.
“I still wait for the evidence,” she said.
The quality of Chinese exports came under international scrutiny in March 2007 after dog
and cat deaths in North America were linked to a pet food ingredient made in China.
Worries grew after potentially dangerous toxins and chemicals were found in products ranging from toothpaste to fish.
Half of all dangerous products seized by European customs and product safety authorities last year came from China, according to the European Commission. Toys sounded a quarter of the alarms, followed by cars and electrical appliances.
In a sign of the level of concern in Europe, Kuneva was making her third visit to China in 12 months.
China increasingly understands Europe’s political concerns about product safety, she said.
Tackling this problem will form the core of a new agreement between the two sides on consumer product safety to be signed later this year, she said. The U.S., China, and the EU will hold a meeting on consumer safety in Brussels in November.
China launched its own crackdown after the international product scares that led to products being recalled, and has been trying to improve the traceability of its products by introducing barcodes that are supposed to track the production chain.
In 2007, China audited 3,540 manufacturers with export licences and 701 companies lost their right to export because of insufficient safety controls.
Still, according to the European Commission, out of 1,605 dangerous products flagged in 2007 from China, Chinese authorities took action in just under half the cases. It was not able to counter under a third of the problems because the manufacturer could not be traced.
Kuneva met earlier with Li Changjiang, head of the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. She travels on to southern Guangdong province, the source of many of China’s exports, and then to Hong Kong.
[AP / Expatica]