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CPSC Opens China Office

August 2nd, 2009

trickThere are those who wish to believe that there is no problem in China. “Japan had the same quality problem once,” I am often reminded.

Asked to defend my position, I like to point out that never in the history of the world has a major economy been compelled to send thousands of quality control representative into a major foreign market to do the job that its manufacturers are either unable or unwilling to do for themselves.

The U.S. FDA has set up its first overseas office recently, and, now, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is following suit. This unprecedented move to establish a federal office in a foreign economy should be seen as evidence of a serious problem:

U.S. regulators announced plans Thursday to set up a Beijing office to help ensure Chinese exports are safe for Americans following a slew of recalls involving everything from pet food to children’s toys. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was seeking to establish a permanent presence overseas for the first time to better cooperate with Chinese regulators and companies so the country’s products are up to U.S. standards, the agency’s chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum said.

Andy Rothman, an economist with CLSA, was on NPR, suggesting — correctly — that just a few American inspectors are not going to solve the problem, but then he took a wrong turn:

The onus really has to come on the American companies that are bringing these products into the U.S.

That’s a nice thought, but it’s not feasible. Importers are not in a position to guarantee much, not anymore than a police chief can guarantee a zero crime rate.

Importers don’t stand a chance anyway against unscrupulous operators in China. Information is not often openly shared by factory owners, and third-party testing is no match for operators who seek to circumvent laboratory controls. I have written on this subject at length, and I can’t include the complete argument here. All I can do is point folks to the book.

In the end, the “onus” is not on importers but on government. American importers are doing the best they can. And individual consumers cannot be charged with shifting foreign economic policy through efforts to avoid products that are made in China. Government sets the rules of the game, and in the end we are all muddling our way through economic policy decisions made by national leaders some time ago. Having opened the sluice gates without weighing the consequences, some would blame the water that’s come rushing in.

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