US-China end safety talks; China sees wide blame

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WASHINGTON, Sep 14 (Reuters) China will work with the United States to ensure the safety of exported toys and other goods, a top Chinese official said, but Beijing still insists it is not solely to blame in recent safety scandals.

Wei Chuanzhong, vice minister of China's General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), said the lengthy talks with US agencies in Washington this week were productive.

''Through sincere and close cooperation between our two countries, the US consumers could get more and more Chinese products with high quality,'' Wei told reporters.

Chinese and US officials will meet again this fall as they prepare two agriculture and environment agreements they hope to sign during an economic summit in Beijing in December.

Wei pointed to a litany of steps China has taken against tainted or unsafe pet food, toys, toothpaste and fish, like blacklisting unscrupulous firms and a new English-language Web site on product safety, but he gave few details on steps the two nations would take together to head off future problems.

But after meetings with health, agriculture, environment and other officials here, including a brief discussion with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, China still sees threats of ''trade protectionism,'' and puts much of the onus for keeping consumers safe on the U.S. government and private sector.

The lion's share of Chinese-made toys recalled in recent weeks were unsafely designed by companies such as Mattel Inc, Wei said, suggesting that only 15 percent of recalled toys were corrupted by Chinese firms' use of lead paint.

China also stresses that it is not alone in struggling to regulate surging exports. In recent weeks, Beijing has complained of dangerous or subpar shipments from the United States, from potato chips to homing pigeons.

Wei said melamine, a dangerous chemical that turned up earlier this year in pet food shipments to the United States, had been found in China's imports from Australia and Peru.

Wei also sees conflicting regulations as another obstacle. The United States allows a drug called ractopamine to be used to grow more lean hogs but the drug is banned in China. It's the opposite situation with an antibiotic common in Chinese seafood farming, he said.

The recent safety scares linked to Chinese goods have added another wrinkle to the two countries' valuable, but complex, trade relationship.

With China posting a massive trade surplus with the United States -- 233 billion dollars last year -- many lawmakers here are stepping up the pressure for Beijing to reform its currency.

This week, Wei also met with Sen. Dick Durbin, who is one of Congress' most outspoken advocates of reforming US safety rules, increasing funding for the meagerly staffed Consumer Product Safety Commission, for instance.

Beijing has invited Durbin to China to clear up what Wei saw as ''prejudice'' and ''misunderstanding'' in their hourlong meeting. A Durbin aide, suggesting the senator will reserve judgment on China's pledges to clean up past mistakes, said the Illinois Democrat had not decided if he would accept.

The Bush administration is now sketching out its own reform plan.

A special import safety panel is due to present President George W.

Bush with specific suggestions in November.

Administration officials stress they cannot inspect every product imported into the United States. Annual imports now total 2 trillion dollars.

REUTERS PD ND0842

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