Today's Second Biennial Sino-U.S. Consumer Product Safety Summit in Washington provides an excellent opportunity to review both the overall state of U.S.-China trade relations and the specific issue of consumer product quality. As representatives of both the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and China's General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine meet to discuss product safety, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) notes that widespread outsourcing of goods production to China and other foreign markets with substandard quality control mechanisms poses inevitable problems, as the recent recalls of Mattel toys have demonstrated.
Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao, have been assuring American officials that product safety is of the utmost concern to them. Unfortunately, China suffers from a weak regulatory process, unwieldy bureaucracy, and rampant corruption at the local level. Chinese officials lack the ability to enforce product safety standards and therefore, both the U.S. government and American consumers should remain concerned about the quality and safety of goods manufactured in China.
The U.S. imported $288 billion worth of goods from China in 2006. The CPSC, with its $63 million annual budget, staff of 420, and only one fulltime lab tester, would be hard-pressed to examine the majority of products entering the U.S. Moreover, the CPSC does not have the legal authority to test consumer products before their release in the U.S.
For now, companies like Mattel, which has endured three different recalls of Chinese-made products, are responsible for ensuring that their imported products are safe. But companies that choose to "cut corners" and send their production overseas may not be the most reliable adherents of self-imposed inspections.
As the recent recalls have shown, outsourcing has its price. While, products made in the U.S. adhere to certain set standards, the U.S. government can not currently guarantee that the same safety standards apply to all the products imported into the American market, even when they bear the name of an American company that once produced its products domestically.