FDA hopes to open China offices by year end

ANNAPOLIS, Md (Reuters) - China has granted diplomatic approval for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to open three inspections offices in China that also will help increase China’s capacity for safe foods, drugs and medical devices, a top Bush cabinet official said on Tuesday.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told a briefing during high-level U.S.-China economic talks that he hoped to open the offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou before the end of this year, with a total staff of nine to 12 people.

“We are working very closely with the government to create a new strategy on the way we deal with imports,” Leavitt said. “We see this office not just necessarily as an inspection group, It will be a capacity building group.

The inspections offices were agreed in principle last December at the last session of the so-called U.S. strategic economic dialogue, which occurred amid heightened American concerns about the quality and safety of a wide range of imported Chinese foods, drugs and other products after a product recall scandals.

Leavitt said that during the current round of talks on Wednesday, the FDA and China’s quality inspection agency would sign a “work plan” to tighten food and feed standards. It also has agreed the terms of a work plan with China’s State Food and Drug Administration, he said, adding that the work plans set specific deliverables and deadlines on previous framework agreements announced in December.

The two governments also have signed an agreement to work together on traditional Chinese medicines, including to improve the scientific basis for such treatments.

Reporting by David Lawder and Glenn Somerville