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US, China Set to Sign Import Safety Pacts


The United States expects to sign two agreements with China next week to ensure that food, animal feed, drugs and medical devices China exports to the United States meet U.S. safety standards. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington he is going to China next week in the hope of signing the deals. VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

The reputation of Chinese imports has taken a hit in recent months, with a series of recalls involving hazardous toys, cancer-causing chemicals in seafood and antifreeze ingredients in toothpaste. China's food exports to the United States have grown rapidly in recent years, with seafood the single biggest category. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt made clear, though, that ensuring the safety of imports is not a problem confined to China, with U.S. consumers purchasing $2 trillion worth of products from across the globe this year.

"Any country who desires to produce goods for American consumers needs to produce them in accordance with American standards - American standards of quality, American standards of safety," he said.

Leavitt said with so many imports coming through 300 U.S. ports, the U.S. government cannot possibly inspect everything at the border.

"It is not possible, nor should we try to inspect our way to import safety," he said. "Everything needs to be safe, but our strategy has to change."

Leavitt is leading the Bush administration's efforts to modernize the U.S. import safety system. His new plan would use third parties to do mandatory safety certification of riskier products before they are allowed to enter the United States. He said this would also mean more American personnel in key foreign ports.

"We need to roll the borders back and begin to build quality into every step of the process, so that before things come to our borders, we have confidence that quality has been built in, and not simply dependent upon us standing at the border to catch them," said Leavitt.

The plan also calls for higher civil penalties for violation of American standards.

Chinese officials have complained that U.S. media have unfairly exaggerated safety problems. But Leavitt said China understands that it has to meet U.S. safety and quality standards or risk consumer backlash.

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