US legislation on product safety targets mainland imports
The United States is preparing a tough consumer product safety law, with mainland manufacturers firmly in its sights following last year's toy recall controversy.
A bill being debated in Congress will tighten safety requirements for imported consumer goods, of which up to 50 per cent come from China, according to Richard O'Brien, a director with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency behind the toy recalls.
Hit by waves of recalls of poisonous toys and other unsafe products over the past eight months, mainland manufacturers are under intense pressure to lift standards.
But toymakers, already facing rising labour and environmental costs, yesterday warned the legislation would only further fuel tensions between the two countries.
An executive at Dongguan-based toymaker Cheery Way Industrial said tighter safety requirements meant demanding that mainland firms shoulder all financial liabilities in case of a product recall. The executive, attending yesterday's Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair, had booked 30 per cent less sales at the four-day event than last year because he could not take the financial risk if there was a recall.
He tied the issue to US concerns over the mainland's huge trade surplus.
'It is not a safety issue, it is a matter of trade war,' he said, while packing up four hours before the fair was due to close at 5pm yesterday. 'It is a dead end if we sign the contracts.'
Mr O'Brien rejected the view that the widening trade gap between the two countries was the root cause of the product recalls. 'What we need from the industry is 100 per cent involvement from one end to the other - from suppliers to retailers,' he said. 'If I were a US importer, I would find a sophisticated Chinese manufacturer. If it is not sophisticated enough to meet the standards, it is not sophisticated to stay in the industry.'
He added that US importers had to make sure products met standards or face penalties.
But Hong Kong manufacturers feel they are on the receiving end of rising global trade tensions.
Steven Lau, of toy-component maker Tetley Springs and Metal, said at the fair that the firm's sales were down about 30 per cent from last year partly due to weaker confidence in Chinese-made toys and competition from mainland rivals.
To prevent large-scale product recalls, the Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau recently tightened quality control and inspection of toy products.