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‘Made in China’ gets recalled again

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Kai Ryssdal: One of the most important brands in the world has taken another big hit. Not Mattel — although today’s recall will surely do some damage to its reputation. It’s actually Mattel’s supplier that may be in some trouble.

Best guesses are 80 percent of all the toys sold in this country are branded “Made in China.” Nine million imported toys, from Polly Pocket dolls to Batman action figures, have been pulled from shelves. They’ve either got magnets kids can swallow or they’re coated with lead paint.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports the latest problems aren’t going to do anything to calm consumer anxiety over Chinese-made imports.

John Dimsdale: China may be the world’s dominant toy maker, but former U.S. trade representative Carla Hills says perhaps not for long.

Carla Hills: The Chinese producers are going to have to clean up their act, or they will have a reputation that will impede their progress and our buyers here will look for other sources of supply.

Trade scholar Sherman Katz at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace says there are plenty of competitors elsewhere in Asia or Mexico ready to grab some of China’s business.

Sherman Katz: Global sourcing is going to look again at whether the cost in image and brand damage offsets the labor saving. We’re already seeing some manufacturing in other sectors moving to other places — Indonesia, for example — where the labor may be even less.

But Katz warns other low-cost countries might also have quality problems, giving U.S. importers incentive to work at improving standards with their Chinese suppliers.

Mattel’s CEO Bob Eckert today sidestepped a question about the cost of extra scrutiny.

Bob Eckert: We do not put a price on safety. We’re talking about children, and I’m a parent of four. Increased testing, increased vigilance is just the cost of doing business.

Eckert said Mattel had supplied its own toy paint, but a Chinese subcontractor switched it for lead-based paint. Now, Mattel will test not only the paint before its applied, but recheck it afterwards.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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