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China: Toy Makers, Buyers Need Safety Focus

Safety standards of toys made in China have been closely watched after a series of recalls ordered by U.S. and European authorities since June last year.

HONG KONG (Kyodo) β€” Upholding safety standards of toys requires efforts by all parties, ranging from manufacturers to buyers worldwide, a Chinese official in charge of export control said Wednesday.
 
''It is important for brand name owners, manufacturers, societies and governments to all work hard to uphold safety standards of toys,'' said Li Qingxiang, deputy director of Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau in Guangdong Province in southern China.
 
''One should not expect to buy a (genuine) Omega watch for $5,'' Li said at a seminar on Chinese and U.S. toy safety measures held amid the four-day Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair that ends Thursday.
 
The safety standards of toys manufactured in China have been closely watched after a series of recalls ordered by U.S. and European authorities since June last year over concerns about excessive lead content in paint coating, loose magnets and harmful chemicals accidentally ingested by children.
 
The export volume of toys made in Guangdong, China's manufacturing base, totaled about 6 billion yuan ($826 million) in 2006 and 5.6 billion yuan in the first 11 months of last year, he said.
 
Guangdong authorities have banned exports from 244 of 1,323 manufacturers in the province after inspections in 2007.
 
Of 450,000 toys inspected in the province in the first 11 months of last year, only 752 units, or 0.17 percent, failed quality tests, Li said, noting that 13 million toys recalled worldwide were found to have different problems including design faults and unsafe paint coating.
 
''We must admit that any management systems, no matter how effective they are, will have loopholes. But the focus of our work should be combating manufacturers who purposely compromise safety standards,'' Li said.
 
Richard O'Brien, director of the International Programs and Intergovernmental Affairs of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the U.S. Congress will from next Tuesday resume discussion on two bills that would strive to push the traces of lead content in paint used on toys to ''close to zero.''
 
Also, the bills would move consensus standards to mandatory standards and require mandatory third party testing of toys before they are put on the market.
 
O'Brien said he is aware of the extra cost burden that would be placed on manufacturers should the U.S. president sign the bills.
 
''Safe products are more expensive to produce, but consumers are willing to pay more for safety of products,'' he said.
 
Li said that as long as everyone in the toy industry operates in accordance with laws and complies with the safety standards of countries to which toys are exported, safety problems should be minimized.
 
The tarnished reputation of ''Made in China'' toys apparently has had little effect on toy sales in the United States and the European Union.
 
Hong Kong Trade Development Council figures show a 25 percent jump in Hong Kong toy exports in the first 11 months of last year, totaling $11.4 billion. Hong Kong exports to the United States and the European Union during the period were up 4.7 percent and 24.2 percent year-on-year, respectively.
 
Rising production costs due to more frequent testing, rising oil prices, labor shortages and the depreciating Hong Kong currency have eaten into profit margins of Hong Kong toy manufacturers and the Hong Kong industry is looking forward to the expanding mainland China market for sales prospect.
 
The production base, however, will likely remain in southern China instead of moving to neighboring countries such as Vietnam and India, according to the Federation of Hong Kong Industries.
 
''Toy manufacturing needs a good supply chain because toy products change so fast and so much,'' federation Chairman Lawrence Chan said. ''Without a good supply chain, it is hard to support the industry and the Pearl River Delta region has a good supply chain.''
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