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US Pledges to Help India Improve Food and Drug Safety Standards


India and the United States have agreed to work together to improve standards for food and drugs. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that the progress comes during a visit to India by the U.S. government official who oversees many of the agencies responsible for America's health and safety standards.

Indian officials say New Delhi and Washington have agreed to form working groups to set standards for the import and export of medicine and food.

This comes after the United States signed two agreements with India's economic rival, China - one concerning food, the other dealing with pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

Both India and China have had problems with exports to the United States because health regulations and other standards were not being met.

Compared to other countries, India has the highest number of food products that are rejected as imports by the United States. Spices, seafood, fruit and additives have been especially troublesome in terms of high levels of bacteria or carcinogenic substances.

India also has a problem with widespread counterfeiting of prescription drugs.

The formation of the Indo-American working groups comes after meetings this week in India between U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and his Indian counterparts.

Leavitt tells VOA News enhancing health standards for products moving across borders has become vital.

"We're at the early stages of a global market that is now maturing and requiring new tools that haven't existed in the past to handle the substantial volume of trade that is beginning to occur," he explained. "These were important conversations and I expect, in time, we will see action - not just at the government level, but among private vendors as well."

Leavitt was speaking Friday in New Delhi right after administering polio vaccination drops to children in a local slum area.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contributed $2.3 million to India's efforts to eradicate polio.

Leavitt also announced Friday that the U.S. government is willing to provide technical assistance to help create an Indian version of the Food and Drug Administration. In the United States, the FDA is the federal agency responsible for ensuring the safety of food, pharmaceutical products, medical devices, cosmetics and certain electronic products.

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