The U.S. government is taking steps to better protect American consumers from unsafe products from abroad. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House the action follows series of recalls involving such basic goods as toothpaste, tires and toys.
It seems every day brings American consumers word of another product recall involving imported goods. Recent months have seen concern over such items as tainted food, and lead-painted dolls, to name a few.
In response, President Bush instructed top officials to come up with a plan of action to keep unsafe imports out of American stores.
"We need to do more to ensure that American families have confidence in what they find on our store shelves," said Mr. Bush. "They have the right to expect the food they eat, the medicines they take or the toys they buy for their children to be safe."
A team of experts, lead by the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, followed the trail of imports from their sources abroad, to market baskets in the United States. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt says based on their findings, there will be big changes in the way the U.S. government handles import safety.
"And the change is going from an intervention strategy where we stand at the border and try to catch things that are unsafe to a strategy of preventing with verification," he said. "That is to say, we roll the borders back and make certain that quality is being built in at the manufacturing point."
The list of recommendations put forward by the Leavitt panel, and endorsed by the president, includes greater product inspections abroad and stronger penalties for unsafe goods. It also calls for the creation of a new system in which exporters would formally certify that their goods meet U.S. standards before they are shipped to the United States.
"We are saying to the world, if you want to have access to American consumers you need to meet the expectations of safety and quality that the United States has, not your consumers, our consumers," he added.
Many of the recent recalls of foreign-produced goods have involved items from China. But Leavitt says China should not be singled out. He emphasizes the United States imported nearly $2 trillion in products last year from more than 825,000 exporters around the world.
Both imports and exports of goods and services to and from the United States have increased in recent years. And President Bush says this expanded trade is ultimately good for all.
Shortly before the new import safety measures were announced, Mr. Bush met with a group of business executives to push his free trade agenda. He urged them to pressure Congress to approve pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, Peru and South Korea.