BEIJING (AP) - A team of U.S. health officials arrived in Beijing on Tuesday in a visit aimed at crafting food and drug safety agreements that would help dispel unease over Chinese exports.
The delegation, led by U.S. Health and Human Services Department official Rich McKeown, will discuss improving the flow of information and devising regulations both sides can be confident in, the department said in a statement issued prior to the group's arrival.
They will focus on developing agreements on the safety of food, drugs and medical devices, hopefully to be completed by December, said the statement, attributed to department Secretary Mike Leavitt.
''Our U.S. regulatory agencies are concerned about what they see as an insufficient infrastructure across the board in China to assure the safety, quality and effectiveness of many products exported to the United States,'' Leavitt was quoted as saying in the statement.
''We believe that with the technology, the scientific expertise, and the commitment each side has, we can work together to correct the outstanding issues,'' Leavitt said.
McKeown is Leavitt's chief-of-staff.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing confirmed the arrival of the delegation but did not give any details on the itinerary or agenda for the five-day visit.
An official with China's General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the chief body for monitoring product safety, said Tuesday that a vice minister will meet the U.S. team but did not elaborate.
Chinese officials have said that talks also would focus on a U.S. ban on catfish, basa, dace, shrimp and eel imposed after repeated testing turned up contamination with drugs that have not been approved in the U.S. for farmed seafood.
International worries about Chinese exports were triggered earlier this year when a pet food ingredient from China was linked to the deaths of cats and dogs in North America. Since then, a growing list of Chinese exports—including toothpaste, tires and seafood—have been recalled or rejected around the world.
The latest warning came over the weekend from California, which told consumers in the northern part of the state not to eat ginger imported from China because it might contain a dangerous pesticide—aldicarb sulfoxide—which is not approved for use on ginger in California.
The California Department of Public Health said it had received no reports of illness from customers who ate the ginger.
The visit by U.S. health officials comes a week after the European Union's top consumer official paid a five-day visit to China and urged the leadership to stick to its commitment to be more transparent about actions it takes against manufacturers who make goods recalled in Europe.
In May, U.S. officials met with China for the second round of Strategic Economic Dialogue talks, where they also discussed food safety. Leavitt said the two countries are committed to a series of bilateral discussions on the subject.
Leavitt said the information his office gathers this week will contribute to the recommendations that the Working Group on Import Safety, which he chairs, will make to President Bush in September.