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U.S. urges Chinese transparency on import safety

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China needs to deal with trade partners’ product safety concerns more transparently, the top U.S. import safety official said on Thursday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt talks during a news conference at the Sanofi Pasteur influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, July 19, 2007. China needs to deal with trade partners' product safety concerns more transparently, Leavitt said on Thursday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, head of an interagency panel charged with tightening U.S. import safety measures, said Washington was committed to working with Beijing to meet three major product safety challenges.

“China must deal with these concerns in a head-on and transparent way to preserve the made-in-China brand,” he told a conference on U.S.-China economic and security ties.

China needs to manage production and distribution networks in an era of rapidly growing trade, while China’s regulatory system needed “to increase its vigor, its sophistication and its effectiveness,” Leavitt said.

The quality of Chinese goods has come under international scrutiny following scandals involving products including toothpaste, pet food, toys and fish. China has acknowledged some problems, but insists the issue has been hyped by foreign media.

“A third challenge is for the government of China to begin to come to terms with the scrutiny of the media,” he added in the second complaint in as many days by a Western official about Beijing’s tendency to blame foreign media.

In Beijing on Wednesday, European Commission Director General for Enterprise and Industry Heinz Zourek, urged China to pay more attention to shoring up its product safety supervision network rather than apportioning blame.

Leavitt said his panel was hosting Chinese product safety delegations this week and next to prepare to sign two major bilateral agreements -- covering drugs and medical supplies and food and animal feed -- in Beijing in December.

“As an important trade partner with China, we need to continue our work in fostering the kind of mutual trust that’s at the heart of these agreements,” he said.

Of a projected $2.2 trillion in imports into the United States in 2007, China will account for about $341 billion, second only to Canada, according to U.S. Customs data.