China Christmas toy orders up despite quality fears

BEIJING, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Orders for Chinese toys are on the rise in the run-up to Christmas despite a wave of product recalls that have shaken confidence in the safety of Chinese-made goods, the country's product safety chief said on Wednesday.

Millions of Chinese-made toys have been recalled this year, mostly because of excessive levels of lead in paint and other components, stoking U.S. complaints that lax quality controls were threatening consumers.

But Li Changjiang, the head of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said factory owners in the southern province of Guangdong, China's manufacturing heartland, told him business was booming.

"They told me, 'our orders are all up', the workers have to work overtime or the orders cannot be met," Li told reporters. "When I heard this, I was shocked."

Problems with Chinese exports prompted the world's biggest toy maker, Mattel Inc, to recall about 21 million of its Chinese-made toys earlier this year. A senior Mattel executive later apologised to China for the trouble the recall had caused.

But in the past few weeks another half a million toys ranging from Winnie the Pooh bookmarks to Baby Einstein blocks were recalled in the United States because of levels of lead, which can be toxic in large amounts.

Li has been spearheading China's public relations drive to restore confidence in the "made-in-China" label, rounding up manufacturers for a crash course in quality supervision and urging companies to make clear in contracts their obligations.

"These unqualified products, especially products exported through illegal channels, have affected the credibility of some Chinese products," he said.

But he also said some of the concern abroad was driven by trade protectionism, and that the quality issue "should not be exaggerated".

Tainted Chinese goods have ranged from tyres and toothpaste to drugs and seafood.

The number of orders for Chinese toys showed that companies were still happy to manufacture in China, Li said, adding that authorities would enhance supervision and increase severity of punishments to crack down on illegally made products.

"Ahead of Christmas, China's toy-makers will provide safe and reliable toys to children around the world by ensuring their quality," Li said.

"So I urge the importers of Chinese toys to come to China and buy more Chinese toys and I wish children around the world a Merry Christmas."