WASHINGTON China will send delegations to the United States in August and September to discuss food and product safety following a spate of product recalls, a Chinese Embassy official said on Wednesday.
Zhao Baoqing, first commercial secretary of the embassy, told reporters the senior-level delegations would discuss the recent problems and Chinese safety measures with U.S. authorities from the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The first delegation will arrive later this month, and a second delegation of vice-ministers will visit in September, he said.
Mattel Inc., the largest U.S. toy company, on Tuesday recalled 18.2 million toys globally, including 9.5 million in the United States. The toys were recalled due to hazards from small, powerful magnets and lead paint.
The recall prompted some U.S. lawmakers to demand a temporary halt and inspections of shipments of Chinese products for children that contain paint and to demand that China open its toy factories for inspections.
In a rare news briefing at the Chinese mission in Washington, Zhao outlined measures Beijing authorities had taken since the "Made in China" scare emerged in March. He also mixed appeals for cooperation with a show of frustration at the U.S. handling of the widening problem.
"When we found problems with food imported from the United States, we usually took a completely different approach than our U.S. colleagues," he said, referring to recent Chinese complaints with U.S. poultry, pork and pistachios.
NO MANDATORY INDEPENDENT TESTING
China first contacts the U.S. embassy to discuss ways to sort out the problem imports, Zhao said, adding: "We would not immediately publish reports in newspaper or on the web."
China signed a memorandum of understanding with the FDA in April 2006 on food safety that covered 20 percent of its food exports to the United States. Beijing hoped to conclude an MOU on the other 80 percent by the end of this year, Zhao said.
Zhao noted that 99.2 percent of China's food exports to the United States in 2006 met quality standards and said the "vast majority of China's food exports to the United States are safe." But he reiterated Chinese plans from September to make all of its food exports carry labels on sales and shipping containers that prove they had passed government inspections.
The Mattel toy recall prompted U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has stridently criticized Chinese trade practices, to call on the State Department to exert pressure on China to open up its toy manufacturing plants to U.S. inspections, his spokesman said.
Asked about independent testing of Chinese factories, Zhao said such checks should be a "matter of commercial agreement between the importer and the exporter."
"We do not wish to make third-party testing compulsory as this would be disadvantageous to the importer, the brand-holder and the exporter," he said.
(Additional reporting by John Poirier)