China Blames Design for Mattel Recalls

Government says only 15% of toys were deemed unsafe due to Chinese manufacturers using lead in the paint.

A design fault was mostly to blame for Mattel's recall of millions of products, not the Chinese manufacturers, China's chief safety watchdog said Aug. 27. Li Changjiang also said Chinese factories were in the clear over the alleged discovery of the dangerous formaldehyde chemical in clothing sold in New Zealand, as he sought to reassure the world over the "Made-in-China" label.

Eighty-five percent of the roughly 20 million toys that Mattel recalled were due to design faults, Li, the director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said. He added that only 15% were deemed unsafe due to Chinese manufacturers using dangerous lead in the paint. "So I would like to pose this question: the Chinese manufacturers have their share of the responsibility, but what kind of responsibilities do the American importer and the product designer have?" he asked.

Meanwhile, Li also said Chinese-made children's pajamas in New Zealand that allegedly contained levels of formaldehyde 900 times higher than was believed safe had actually passed safety tests by both governments. The New Zealand government last week launched an investigation after a television program there reported that some clothing imported from China contained unacceptably high levels of the chemical. Formaldehyde is used to prevent creasing in clothes and fabrics but is also linked to health problems ranging from skin complaints to cancer. "The tests (by the Chinese government) found that the relevant textile products passed the standards for low fire danger and formaldehyde levels," Li said.

Li also insisted the bad publicity over the dangerous products was having little impact on China's exporters. Total Chinese exports in the first half of this year rose 27.6% to $546.7 billion, he said. During that time Chinese exports to the U.S. grew 17.8%, while goods bound for the EU went up by 30.2%, and products sent to Japan rose by 11.3%.

Last week, Li was quoted in state media saying the international safety concerns were due to trade protectionism that aimed to "demonize" China. Nevertheless, he referred to a new four-month campaign which was announced last week to improve the quality of its consumer products, saying it would be able to restore international consumer confidence. "This will mark a new stage in our country's product quality and food safety and will lead to the world putting faith in "Made in China" products," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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