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Put away your China-made toys

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Scott Jagow: Once again, China must answer questions about the safety of its exports. This time, it’s toys. Yesterday, Mattel recalled almost a million toys in the U.S. because the paint on them has too much lead in it. These are Fisher-Price toys with parts made in China. They include popular preschool characters like Elmo and Big Bird. This is the latest in a series of product recalls out of China, but this is the biggest company involved so far. Geoff Dyer is a Financial Times reporter in Shanghai. Geoff, how are the Chinese responding to this recall so far?

Geoff Dyer: There’s been no direct response for this specific case yet, but there have been some general comments trying to reassure consumers abroad saying that the vast majority of Chinese products do pass safety standards and there are no problems with them.

Jagow: I’m curious Geoff, is this do you think a byproduct of the fact that we’re watching China more carefully since we’ve had so many recalls or is this just a separate issue?

Dyer: It’s very hard to explain. I mean, on the one hand it is normal that there would be more recalls and more problems with Chinese goods because the number of Chinese exports is increasing so dramatically. But that doesn’t really explain then the huge number of cases that there seem to have been this year. And this particular case is an unusually worrying one because it does involve a company that is generally considered in its industry to be one of the companies with the best standard procedures about checking the safety of its products. And it’s in an industry where there are relatively high and rigorous testing standards.

Jagow: And one of the things I heard a Chinese official say is they attach a great deal of importance to product quality, but they don’t want to overblow things. How are they balancing that, the PR versus the reality of making safer products?

Dyer: Well the initial reaction a few months ago when these cases first came up was very defensive, trying to suggest that it wasn’t really their fault. Since then they’ve become more proactive and tried to engage with the rest of the world, tried to show that they’re implementing tougher procedures. At the same time they’ve also tried to persuade consumers around the world that this is a problem that’s limited to just a small percentage of Chinese products.

Jagow: What specifically are the Chinese doing to prevent these kinds of things from happening?

Dyer: Well they have enacted a whole bunch of new procedures for checking the registration of new medicines, for checking food quality, but ultimately for products being sold in the U.S. and sold in Europe, ultimately it’s going to come down the companies that are selling the products that are going to have to sharpen up their own testing procedures.

Jagow: OK Geoff, thanks so much.

Dyer: My pleasure.

Jagow: Geoff Dyer is the Shanghai Bureau Chief for the Financial Times.

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