China’s Defective Products: PR Alone is No Cure

By July 14, 2007Trade

China has just announced it’s suspending some U.S. meat imports — including pigs ears and chicken feet — which adds weight to the Washington Post’s Page A1 story today. The Post reports that the Chinese are going the PR route in response to the recent high-profile cases of contaminated, dangerous and deadly products, activating the public relations and lobbyist cadres. Not very reassuring.

The result has been an aggressive campaign to save the “Made in China” label by presenting an alternate view on consumer safety and globalization. The message is that China isn’t the only country that has had problems with the products it exports. China, as government officials have been pointing out in recent days, rejects U.S. imports at a rate that is just a little less than the 1 percent of Chinese products rejected by the United States…[snip]

At the same time, the Chinese government is trying to show that it is taking seriously recent recalls by making examples of individuals and companies that allegedly contributed to the problems. The recalls have included pet food laced with an industrial chemical, toys coated with lead paint, defective tires and toothpaste made with toxic chemicals.

The Wall Street Journal sees the market as the ultimate corrective, or at least is warning against U.S. protectionists seizing on the Chinese transgressions as a way to shut down trade. Its lead editorial today makes the argument that the stock market, company brand-protection and litigation are all powerful tools, even as government — the FDA, the CPSC — also plays its role.

The least productive response is U.S. protectionism, which will lead to higher prices and less competition. Other countries will respond by also using quality as an excuse for trade barriers, the way they already have against U.S. beef after a rare case of “mad cow” disease. The best education for crooked Chinese capitalists is likely to be the harsh judgment of American business partners and consumers.

Will that satisfy the U.S. consumer? Well…

The arguments will get an airing Wednesday when the Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing on the safety of consumer products and food imported from China, focusing on the affects on consumers and how federal agencies respond. Details here. So more to come…

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