Europe and U.S. move toward cooperation with China on product safety

BRUSSELS — The European Union and the United States on Monday sought to bind China into international controls on product safety when the three trading partners discussed consumer scares ranging from contaminated Chinese milk to dangerous toys.

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At a meeting in Brussels, Beijing officials signed a new agreement with the EU promising to strengthen the exchange of information over faulty products, improve the ability to trace dangerous goods, and increase cooperation in taking them out of circulation.

Meglena Kuneva, the EU consumer protection commissioner, said the accord “provides for more transparency, better monitoring and new possibilities for joint surveillance.”

The accord coincided with the release of figures showing a significant rise in dangerous goods from China entering the European market. As a percentage of products taken off the EU market, those from China have increased to 56 percent in the first nine months of this year from 47 percent a year earlier.

Officials advised caution over the statistics, arguing that the increase may reflect improved detection rates. But the figures also show that of around 200 faulty products of which the Chinese authorities are notified each quarter, only around 80 are investigated. This resulted in corrective action in 51 percent of cases investigated.

China is the biggest exporter to the EU, and around 85 percent of toys on the European market are made in China.

At the meeting on Monday, the United States also agreed to work more closely with the EU on converging regulatory standards and exchanging information. Last year, Kuneva complained that she learned of the mass recall of Mattel products only from newspaper reports. U.S. legislation now permits advance notice of such moves, she said.

Nancy Nord, acting chairwoman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said that there was now a “historic opportunity to make progress on toy standard harmonization.”

Chinese officials say they support this goal, since it is difficult to meet two different sets of export standards.

Wei Chuanzhong, the Chinese deputy minister responsible of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said the meeting marked “the beginning of a new era of tripartite cooperation.”

U.S. agency to set up in China

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will open three offices in China this week in an unprecedented effort to improve the safety of exports headed to United States, The Associated Press reported from Beijing.

The new offices will increase the effectiveness of efforts to protect U.S. and Chinese consumers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said. The offices will be in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.