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EU says China making progress on toy safety
(Adds industry reaction) By William Schomberg and Darren Ennis
BRUSSELS, Nov 22 (Reuters) - China has made "considerable progress" in tackling exports of dangerous toys and other products after a string of recalls, the European Union's consumer affairs chief said, backing down from threats of a ban.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva on Thursday also proposed measures for EU business and governments to reduce the risk of dangerous goods entering the market.
"In this world you cannot give 100 percent guarantees. But you can make sure the system is fit for the purpose," she said.
China is due to introduce soon a new domestic alert system modelled on EU procedures and was already more active in investigating problems, the European Commission said in a statement.
Kuneva had previously raised the prospect of a ban on toy imports if China failed fully to address her concerns.
However, she told a news conference: "There are still significant problems, especially at the lower end of the market. Further efforts are definitely needed."
She launched a review of EU toy safety standards in September after the recall of millions of toys this year due to excessive levels of lead paint and other unsafe components.
Toy safety is due to be discussed at an EU-China summit on Nov. 28.
The world's biggest toymaker, Mattel Inc MAT.N, has recalled over 21 million Chinese-made products in the last four months.
A report published by Kuneva's officials on Thursday said the "first legal responsibility to put safe toys on the market lies with industry" and there were still problems with some companies in ensuring product safety.
This view was echoed by the European consumers' organisation BEUC, which said it "welcomed the Commission's efforts to improve the situation in China".
"But we stress that the primary responsibility for the safety of products rests with the manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers who put the products on the market," it said in a statement.
"Whether they chose to have the products made in China or anywhere else, it is they who are responsible, and legally liable, for ensuring that their products are safe."
Priority action should include a full audit of safety measures in the toy supply chain to be concluded in the first three months of 2008, the EU's executive Commission said.
The EU executive also said it would come up with "appropriate warnings" about the danger of magnets in toys while EU governments should enhance cooperation between customs and market watchdogs and improve traceability of consumer goods.
Furthermore, the 27-nation bloc and the United States, which have worked together following the recent recalls, would jointly study ways to improve product and import safety under their new Transatlantic Economic Council, which brings together top-level policymakers from Brussels and Washington.
Toy Industries Europe -- representing toymakers such as Mattel, Hasbro HAS.N and Hornby (HRN.L) -- said it broadly backed Thursday's report, in particular Brussels' move to highlight the increasing dangers of magnets.
"Pending the adoption of a European standard, we support a balanced, proportionate and harmonised approach to raising awareness on this emerging issue," TIE said in a statement. (Editing by Dale Hudson/Rory Channing)
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