China told to stop blame game for product safety

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BEIJING, Oct 24 (Reuters) China should pay more attention to shoring up its product safety supervision network rather than apportioning blame for recent problems, a senior European Union official said today.

The quality of Chinese goods has come under international scrutiny following scandals involving products ranging from toothpaste and pet food to toys and fish.

China insists the issue is limited to a few errant companies and hyped by foreign media as well as being driven by a protectionist agenda in some countries.

Chinese deputy quality watchdog chief Wei Chuanzhong repeated that criticism to European Commission Director General for Enterprise and Industry, Heinz Zourek, but the EU official said he thought action would be better than words.

''I can assure you that the European Union is determined to draw conclusions out of these experiences that we have been witnessing.

But we feel that we should concentrate our efforts on how to improve the system rather than blaming anybody,'' Zourek told Wei at a meeting in Beijing.

''What we must not do is compromise on the safety, whatever the quality level. The products have to be safe,'' he added. ''It is important to undertake measures, but it is equally important to have an efficient communication and alert system in place.'' In one of the largest incidents, the world's biggest toy maker, Mattel Inc , recalled about 21 million of its Chinese-made toys in a span of five weeks, mainly because of excessive levels of lead paint.

A senior Mattel executive later apologised to China for the trouble the recall had caused. Wei reassured Zourek that the government was taking the issue seriously.

''Recently we have launched a corrective campaign to improve product and food quality and safety. Its scope and scale is unprecedented,'' he said.

''The quality of the overwhelming number of our exports to the EU and United States is up to scratch. The Chinese government will strike hard against illegal practices,'' Wei added.

Trade tensions have also soured Sino-EU ties of late. The EU is China's largest export market, but maintains a large and growing deficit.

''We consider that the imbalances in our bilateral trade are becoming more and more visible,'' Zourek said. ''Our exports going to China are smaller in size than our exports going to Switzerland, a country with about six million inhabitants.'' But he added that with 1.3 billion people, China could be a vast future market for the EU.

''You can look at this with anxiety or with hope. I tend to hope, because ... we have a huge potential.'' REUTERS ARB RR RAI1136

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