From: Doug Palmer, Reuters
Published December 3, 2007 02:10 PM

U.S., China to sign import safety pacts: HHS' Leavitt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expects to sign of pair of agreements with China next week to ensure that food, animal feed, drugs and medical devices that the country exports to the United States meet U.S. safety standards, a top Bush administration official said on Monday.

"Early next week, we hope to sign binding memorandums of understanding in the areas of food and feed and devices and drugs," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Any country who desires to produce goods for American consumers needs to produce them in accordance with American standards -- American standards of quality, American standards of safety," Leavitt said.

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The two agreements follow a series of recalls that have raised concerns about the safety of Chinese goods just as China surpassed Germany this year as the world's top exporter.

China's food exports to the United States have grown rapidly in recent years, with the single biggest category, seafood, more than doubling since 2001 to nearly $1.93 billion in 2006.

U.S. imports of Chinese-made scientific, medical and hospital equipment doubled over the same period to about $1.87 billion in 2006, while imports of Chinese medicinal, dental and pharmaceutical preparations doubled to $676 million.

The United States, a major animal feed producer, imported $195 million worth of animal feed and food grains from China last year, more than six times amount in 2001.

Leavitt has led the Bush administration's effort to modernize the U.S. import safety system in response to the spate of product recalls from China and other countries.

Chinese officials complain Western media has unfairly exaggerated safety problems, but acknowledge they need to take steps to protect China's reputation, Leavitt said.

"It's very clear to me that they understand that the 'Made in China' brand is very much affected by this," Leavitt said. "I think it is one of the reasons that they have worked aggressively to come to an agreement with us."

China has a robust system for testing drugs and medical devices intended for domestic use, but is less rigorous about products headed into international trade, he said.

China's food inspection process "is substantially more mature than their regulatory system for drug and devices," Leavitt said.

He did not say when the agreements -- which are still being finalized -- would take effect. But the aim is to make the countries' two different systems compatible, he said.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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