Chinese-Made Toy Recall Heightens U.S. Uproar Over Job Losses

Manufacturing group calls for government to put stop to China's unfair trading practices.

A Fisher-Price recall of nearly one million Chinese-made toys, the latest in a series of similar scandals, is ratcheting up already high American resentment against the offshoring of jobs. Mattel's Fisher-Price announced Aug. 1 that it was recalling 967,000 toys made in China that are suspected of containing paint tainted with illegally high levels of toxic lead. The recall includes around 80 items, including popular Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer toys, sold in U.S. stores between May and August this year.

It was the latest of a slew of cases involving shoddily made and dangerous products imported from China. In June U.S. toy importer RC2 Corp. recalled 1.5 million wooden "Thomas the Train" figures that had lead-based paint.

On Aug. 2, China's commerce minister, Bo Xilai, said "more than 99% of the products China exports are of good quality and are safe." The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition had its say on Aug. 2 as well. "It is urgent that Congress adopts a comprehensive policy response to combat China's unfair, mercantilist trading practices," said Auggie Tantillo,executive director of the group.

Indignation is rising in the United States. "The Chinese, for the very last penny, will endanger people at levels that are fully irresponsible," said Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland. The economist, a sharp critic of Chinese trade policies, said that Americans so far have not revolted against Chinese products for one simple reason: "We haven't had any children dying."

"Unfortunately, we have to have a tragedy, and that said, the evidence is plain: Don't buy anything from China that you put in your mouth, or that you put in the hands of children, " Morici added.

Americans heavily depend on Chinese-made products, an appetite that pushed the trade gap with China to a massive $233 billion in 2006. That dependency has been accompanied by Americans' growing complaint in recent years that China is behind the loss of U.S. industrial jobs to overseas markets. But it is difficult to have leverage with the Chinese giant, as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson again experienced this week in China, winding up almost empty-handed Aug. 1 after seeking a reevaluation of the yuan.

Democratic lawmakers accuse the Republican administration of President George W. Bush of inertia on the subject, particularly in stopping short of officially accusing China of deliberately manipulating its currency to maintain an unfair trade advantage. The Democrats are vying to passing a law that would force the Treasury to take a tougher line with China. The measure was approved Aug. 1 by the Senate Banking Committee, and according to experts has a good chance of being passed by Congress.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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