WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S.-Chinese agreements designed to make imports safer will serve as a model for other countries, the nation's top health official said Wednesday.
Under the agreements, Chinese producers of certain products will undergo a review that certifies their products meet U.S. safety standards. Those that pass will get quick access to U.S. markets.
''If you refuse to do that, then we want to scrutinize you with a higher degree of certainty,'' Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the National Press Club. ''And it will take longer for you to get your products in, and your speed to market will be diminished, and your competitive advantage will be diminished.''
Leavitt said the United States had made clear to Chinese officials that the recalls of toothpaste, pet food and toys had jeopardized the integrity of products labeled ''Made in China.''
He said he is convinced that Chinese officials got the message. ''If they want access to our consumers they've got to produce according to our standards,'' he said.
Leavitt made clear that all nations are struggling to keep up with the global economy. The sheer number of imports have led to much of the problem. Products come to the U.S. from 800,000 different sources and from 300 different ports, he noted.
He said the U.S. can't keep up by simply hiring more inspectors.
''There's just too much of it, and to inspect everything would bring the global economy to a crawl,'' he said.
Instead, officials will rely on governments or independent businesses to ensure that products are safe where they are grown or manufactured.
Leavitt also said stronger penalties are needed. He said the administration is seeking the authority to increase fines for some unsafe products from a maximum of $1.8 million to as much as $10 million. The steeper fines would be for nonfood products regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, although Leavitt mistakenly told the audience they would be applied to food products.
Separately, the House on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation designed to make children's toys safer and increase the powers of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Under the bill, anything more than a minute amount of lead would be banned in toys meant for children under 12. Once fully implemented, the legislation would require the standard for lead in toys to drop from 600 parts per million to 100 parts per million.
The bill also would ban the sale and export of recalled products, requires tracking labels on children's products to aid in recalls and requires mandatory third-party testing by certified laboratories.
The bill also bans the commission from taking industry-sponsored travel, gives $20 million to modernize the commission's testing lab and increases the agency's budget to as much as $100 million for the agency by 2011.
The legislation ''finally restores the CPSC to its rightful place of prominence and gives it the necessary tools to grapple with the global marketplace and protect America's consumers, particularly our children from dangerous and defective products,'' said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.
Associated Press writer Jesse Holland contributed to this report.