Onus on importers to check safety -French FinMin

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BEIJING, Sep 20 (Reuters) Importers must take responsibility for ensuring that the products they ship into France from China reach quality and safety standards, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said today.

A series of scandals over the safety of Chinese products ranging from toys to toothpaste has not only tarnished the ''made-in-China'' brand but heightened scrutiny over the role of Western firms that source goods from China.

''In principle, the French importer is responsible for products.

When there are toys imported from China, it is essential that the importer verify themselves that the toys meet standards,'' Lagarde told reporters during a visit to a newly opened toy safety testing lab in Beijing.

''But in China the factories must be monitored to make sure safety standards are adhered to and that flaws are dealt with,'' she said.

As Lagarde toured the sparkling clean inspection rooms, white-coated workers pored over mascot dolls for the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

Governments and businesses are moving to fix gaps in testing and verification procedures that have led to a series of recalls of Chinese-made products, notably for about 21 million Mattel toys.

Mattel Inc said yesterday that it would initiate third-party audits to check the safety of its toys and make more surprise inspections of factories.

EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said last week that the European Union would ban imports of certain Chinese consumer goods unless Beijing responds to EU concerns about health and safety standards.

Separately, David McCormick, US Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs, praised Beijing today for its response so far to the product safety concerns.

''The Chinese government has responded very quickly and aggressively on this,'' McCormick told students at Beijing's Peking University.

Still, he underlined the seriousness of the issue and said that the Chinese government needed to continue to act in order to guard the ''made-in-China'' brand.

''I think all the parties involved seem to be taking quick action on it, and we want to be careful not to overstate the challenge, but we also want to be careful not to understate it,'' McCormick said.

REUTERS SKB RK1820

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