China says toy recall scare shows protectionist agenda

BEIJING (Reuters) - Mattel has only itself to blame for a huge toy recall that has stoked global alarm about Chinese-made goods, state media said on Thursday, charging that a slew of foreign safety scares had exposed a protectionist agenda.

Mattel Inc, the world’s largest toymaker, recalled over 18 million Chinese-made toys this month because of risks from small magnets that can injure children if swallowed, just two weeks after it recalled 1.5 million toys due to fears over lead paint.

Coming in the wake of warnings over Chinese-made toothpaste, pet food, tires, eels and seafood, and lethal chemicals that had found their way into medicine, the toy recall has magnified calls in Washington for much tougher scrutiny of such imports.

The overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s official paper, continued Beijing’s recent counter-offensive, putting the spotlight on multinationals that have used China as a production base.

“If it comes down to blame, then it all lies with the U.S. side,” the paper said of the Mattel magnet recall, noting that the problem was a design defect. “The Chinese manufacturer only produced according to those specifications.”

A China-based company that let lead in the toy paint would be punished, but even here Mattel must share blame, the paper said, noting that the U.S. firm had worked with it for over a decade.

The paper said foreign media reports about unsafe Chinese food and products were exaggerated and ignored the good record of nearly all the country’s exporters.

“People have reason to fear that some government officials and media in the United States hope to use doubts about the overall quality of Chinese goods to press for narrow trade protection.”

Over half of China’s exports were produced by foreign investors and joint ventures, the paper said.

“If product quality is sub-standard, foreign businesses and joint ventures cannot shirk their blame”, it said.

On Thursday, a China-based toy maker also dismissed criticism of brutal conditions at their factories leveled by a U.S.-based rights group in the wake of the Mattel toy recall.

“The foreign organization does not understand how difficult it is for us to find and keep skilled workers because of stiff competition,” Mark Yi, Hong Kong owner of a toy factory in Guangdong province, told the China Daily referring to the U.S.-based China Labor Watch.

“We have tried every means to improve the living and working environment of workers. My company now offers at least 30 to 50 percent higher salaries than it did three or four years ago, but we simply do not have enough workers during peak seasons.”

China Labor Watch said it had found brutal conditions and labor violations at eight Chinese plants that make toys for big multinationals, and called on the companies to improve standards.