U.S. and China promise Americans lead-free toys

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U.S. and Chinese officials agreed on Tuesday to take immediate steps to stop the use of lead paint in toys made in China following toy recalls that have scared American parents ahead of holiday shopping.

Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said two days of talks with her Chinese counterpart indicated China was serious about helping keep hazardous products off the market.

We are working very hard to assure that the marketplace is safe, she said on the second day of talks between the CPSC and China's General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ)

Our colleagues at AQSIQ have agreed to immediately develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that Chinese exports comply with U.S. laws banning lead paint on toys as well as with China's own rules that prohibit its use, said Nord.

The second Sino-US Consumer Product Safety Summit, which followed an inaugural 2005 round in Beijing, comes after months of toy and other product recalls and discoveries of unsafe imports from China.

Nord and AQSIQ Vice-minister Wei Chuanzhong also agreed to improve safety standards of electrical goods, cigarette lighters and fireworks, they told a news conference.

The Chinese government agrees to coordinate plans to guarantee the safety and health standards of the products, including toys, exported to the U.S., Wei said.

The Consumers Union welcomed Tuesday's agreement on keeping lead paint off toys, but called it long overdue.

The flurry of recent recalls has undermined confidence in the safety of toys, said Donald Mays, a senior expert at the Consumers Union, which publishes the journal Consumer Reports.

STRINGENT ENFORCEMENT PLEDGED

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Walt Disney Co will start its own testing of toys featuring Disney characters following three voluntary recalls of Mattel Inc toys found to have unsafe levels of lead paint.

Wei echoed other Beijing officials who have complained that the U.S. media have hyped the danger from Chinese products, saying that China's huge export surge would not have happened if its products were shoddy.

The series of toy recalls stemmed from real quality and safety problems, a large gap in standards between our two countries, design failures and, finally, because of distorted reports, Wei said.

Steps taken by China included holding a cabinet-level safety conference, setting up a product safety working group headed by heavyweight economic trouble shooter Wu Yi and a nationwide rectification campaign, he said.

We believe those measures will enable China's products to attain higher quality in the near future, Wei said.

Nord said her agency would maintain very frequent and very regular consultations with the Chinese, but would not go easy on violators of the 1978 U.S. ban on lead paint in toys.

If we find that our lead paint ban is not being complied with, if we find violations, then we will not hesitate to take very stringent enforcement activities, she said.

The product safety meeting was the latest in a flurry of U.S. moves to quell consumer anxiety over Chinese export scares have hit toothpaste, animal food ingredients, tires, eels, seafood and cough medicine.

On Wednesday, Nord and toy industry executives including Mattel CEO Bob Eckert and Toys R Us CEO Jerry Storch are slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

On Monday, the Bush administration's Interagency Working Group on Import Safety, comprised of 12 U.S. government agencies, published a strategy to beef up checks of food and other imports through better coordination and technology.

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