New U.S.-China trade agreement calls for tighter product safety measures

Published 30 November 2007

In 2007, $2 trillion worth of goods will be delivered into the U.S. by more than 825,000 importers; experts say the amount of imported goods will triple by 2015; next week the U.S. and China will sign trade agreements aiming to ensure enhanced safety of imported food, drugs, and devices; critics say these agreements do not go far enough

The United States expects to sign trade agreements with China next week aiming to ensure enhanced safety of imported food, drugs, and devices, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Michael Leavitt said earlier in the week. San Francisco Chronicle’s George Raine writes that during a tour of a remodeled San Francisco Safeway store that offers a cornucopia of imported foods, Leavitt said the accord, six months in the making, is a template for other trading partners who want to sell goods to or put food on the tables of U.S. customers. “The agreements will make it very clear that if they desire to produce goods for our consumers they will need to meet our standards,” said Leavitt. “We will help them know how to meet those standards. We will help them develop a regulatory system that gives us and our consumers the comfort that best practices are being used,” the secretary said.

A string of recent recalls of food and other products made in China alarmed consumers and lawmakers and came amid the trade negotiations that Leavitt said can be concluded with sessions next week when he arrives in the country. Asked whether relations between the two nations were strained by the discovery of Chinese-made tainted food and dangerous products, Leavitt said, “I think we all recognize that was a warning sign to consumers and countries that the world is changing. “The system we have today is good but it is not adequate for the future.” President Bush appointed Leavitt, the former Republican governor of Utah, to chair a cabinet-level working group on import safety six months ago. He said the group’s report, delivered 6 November, represents a fundamental change in strategy. In the past, the United States “stood at the border and tried to catch things that came into the country that are unsafe,” he said. The new strategy is to “actually build quality in every step of the way,” by seeing that U.S. quality-control standards are met in the production phase and have foods and goods certified abroad - in some cases by governments or by trusted agencies. “There is an old saying in hockey: You skate where the puck is going to be,” said Leavitt. Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, said he did not share Leavitt’s optimism. “I do not expect a whole lot