Official reactions to the many recent recalls of foods and other goods made in China over the last few months have fluctuated between two main approaches:
1) stressing the need for better quality and safety standards to redeem the international image of the “made in China” brand (internally) and 2) accusing the countries lodging the complaints of trade protectionism of the worst sort (externally).
The accusations, it seems, get more intense when the company declaring the goods unsafe is a trade competitor, as this article from the Washington Post on trade complaints made to China by Southeast Asian countries suggests:
After hearing about dangerous Chinese products elsewhere, Indonesia this summer began testing popular Chinese-made items on its own store shelves. What it found has added to the list of horrors: mercury-laced makeup that turns skin black, dried fruit spiked with industrial chemicals, carcinogenic children’s candy.
The Chinese government called up in August saying it had a possible solution. Husniah Rubiana Thamrin Akib, head of Indonesia’s top food and drug safety agency, was pleased and welcomed her counterparts to her office.
But according to Husniah, the Chinese suggested Indonesia lower its safety standards.
Strong stuff. On the other hand, the article allows that some complaints could indeed have ulterior motives and that there could be a point to China’s indredulity:
“I don’t really believe that Chinese products fail to meet their basic standards. That’s not true. There is competition between Chinese products and those from their countries,” said Gao Yongfu, a law professor who is the assistant to the president of the Shanghai World Trade Organization Affairs Consultation Center.
This is a powerful argument in Asia, where many countries are not only big customers of China but also its competitors. Last week, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in a meeting in Manila, agreed to strengthen product standards by increasing communication …
“When a government starts banning things for health reasons — particularly for chemicals — you must always question whether there might be a trade issue involved. So the government can legitimately ban something, but in fact their motivation may be with trade,” said Desmond O’Toole, a member of Hong Kong’s expert committee on food safety and an adjunct professor of biology and chemistry at the City University of Hong Kong.
But still, if the dangerous mercury or lead or formaldehyde is there, what argument do you really have?