Move to tidy up safety rules on baby products
The United States, the European Union and Canada plan to establish a common set of safety rules on some infant products, moving a step forward to a harmonised global regime, according to a senior US government official.
Instead of aligning existing safety requirements in different jurisdictions into one regime, the three parties intend to draft a one-for-all set of rules as a trial, said Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency behind product recalls.
The US proposed to begin the initiative by writing rules for three areas of products - baby slings, high-chairs and window covering.
'It is too complicated to harmonise existing rules into one,' said Tenenbaum yesterday on the sidelines of the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair. 'It will be a long time before a full set of harmonised standards are put in place.'
A common safety regime on consumer products will mean significant savings of time, regulatory compliance and money for manufacturers and suppliers, who must presently satisfy different sets of safety standards in different countries.
The US made compliance of product safety rules compulsory in 2008. But the toy industry on the mainland and in Hong Kong has been hard hit by a string of recalls in the US on products said to have a defective design and toxic components.
Subsequent safety checks meant extra expenses on testing products.
The commission recalled 428 consumer goods globally last year, down from 465 in 2009 and 563 in 2008. But China accounted for about half of last year's recalls, at 220, down slightly from 230 in 2009.
It is the largest supplier of toys and other consumer products to the US and branded the product recalls and safety compliance demands as protectionist measures.
But the US said it intended only to ensure the safety of consumers.
Tenenbaum said the commission had recently set up its first overseas office, in Beijing, to step up compliance education and prevent dangerous products from reaching the US market.
Some manufacturers welcomed the prospect of a common governance regime.
Bill Wong Chong-piu, managing director of Hong Kong-based Toto Toys, said multiple tests of products overlapped and wasted time and money. 'It will be good news if a single test can meet every country's standards. Our cost burden will be lighter,' he said.
Costs of testing represented about 20 per cent of Toto's production cost, which depended on the type of product, he said.
Wong added that toy manufacturers on the mainland had to submit their products to at least two rounds of product testing.
One is designed to meet the requirements of the mainland's product safety watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, before they are exported.
The other is to meet the requirements of an importing country.