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US Sets Up Product Safety Office at Embassy in China

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission chairwoman, Inez Tenenbaum

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission chairwoman, Inez Tenenbaum

The U.S. government is setting up its first overseas office for consumer product safety, in China, in a bid to reduce the number of dangerous products reaching the American market.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum says the new office aims to help Chinese manufacturers better understand American regulations and standards. She says that will help prevent problems before goods are shipped to the United States.

“By having a proactive preventive posture, we can reduce the number of recalls and keep our consumers safe, and also prevent the loss of revenue and damage to a manufacturer’s brand,” Tennenbaum said.

The office is also aimed at making it easier for the U.S. government to raise concerns with Chinese officials about safety problems. The office’s two employees will work in the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

There were 220 U.S. safety recalls of Chinese-made products last year. Concerns remain about problems such as lead in children’s toys and counterfeit electrical goods. American consumers also have tried to get compensation for Chinese-made drywall that they say emitted noxious gases, damaged wiring and made thousands of homes unlivable.

U.S. recalls of Chinese products have fallen slightly, which Tenenbaum says indicates improvements in China’s manufacturing oversight. But she says China is the natural choice for the commission’s first overseas office because of the volume of Chinese products in the American market.

“To give you an overview of why China is so important to the CPSC, 45 percent of all consumer products sold in the U.S. come from China and Hong Kong - 45 percent,” Tenenbaum explained. “In terms of toys, 90 percent of all toys sold in America come from China and Hong Kong.”

China is the world’s leading exporter. But it has been working to improve foreign consumer confidence in recent years following a series of safety scandals with food and consumer products from China.

The former head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration was executed in 2007 for corruption. He was accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in relation to sub-standard medicines, which were blamed for several deaths.

His sentence came as U.S. headlines were filled with reports of contaminated toothpaste and deadly melamine-tainted pet food from China. Following those scandals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set up its first overseas office, in China, in November 2008.