Ask America's top product safety official about Chinese-made products and you're going to get a different answer. She said change is already here -- asserting there's a new awareness among Chinese government officials and manufacturers that has led to a noticeable difference in imports from that country meeting U.S. standards.
In an interview with WalletPop.com, Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum said recent law changes in the U.S. and a constant dialogue with the Chinese government is yielding results that should end up with American consumers feeling better about Chinese products.
"They have gotten the message," Tenenbaum said. "And it's very important to the Chinese that the brand 'Made in China' have a positive meaning to Americans, since we are probably the largest consuming nation of Chinese products... Our economies are tied, but we do not jeopardize safety for trade issues."
She said the Chinese have closed some factories that violated U.S. safety laws.
"I know the frustrations that U.S. consumers have with Chinese made goods, especially those that have been recalled," Tenenbaum told a gathering of consumer advocates before the interview. "I am dealing with the reality at CPSC that imports will not slow down, not now or in the future, so we need to do everything possible to help foreign manufacturers build safer products than in the past. That is a commitment we are making to consumers. Once a toy or cigarette lighter or ATV leaves China or Vietnam or Singapore, we are working harder than ever before to intercept it at the port, if it is unsafe."
Tenenbaum told WalletPop of the safety agency's plans for the year ahead, including:
- Opening a CPSC office in China.
- A major campaign to teach parents and caregivers about infant sleeping safety and a redoing of rules for how cribs should be made.
- A database that will allow consumers to examine safety complaints made about specific products (March 2011).
Tenenbaum started at the agency last year and came in at a time when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act kicked in, stiffening some safety rules and giving the CPSC a considerably bigger hammer to hold over businesses that break them. The CPSC now can levy penalties of up to $15 million compared a maximum of $1.8 million.
Another change Tenenbaum is presiding over is a major increase in the CPSC budget and staffing. In 2008, she said the agency had 385 employees (tiny by federal standards) and now has more than 500.