China unhappy with EU's product safety call
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - The top EU trade official told China on Monday its reputation was at risk after a series of product safety scandals and that it must do more to tackle the problem.
The comments drew an icy response from a senior Chinese minister.
European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told a meeting on food safety in Beijing that a rash of recalls of toys, toothpaste and other consumer goods had shaken global confidence in China's exports.
Beijing had to clamp down on defective goods to restore buyers' confidence.
"While product safety is not a problem restricted to China, it will nevertheless be central to the global perception of China's growing weight as a manufacturer," he said. "China's long-term success depends on its reputation."
While labeling recent Chinese efforts to crack down a "positive first step," he said comments by some officials that 99 percent of China's products were safe was not good enough.
"Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day -- so even 1 percent is not acceptable," Mandelson said, adding he expected the European Union to make a growing number of discoveries of substandard Chinese goods.
He also tied worries about safety to wealthy nations' other big bugbear with "made-in-China" -- what he called the "tidal wave" of counterfeits.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the trade in counterfeited consumer goods has reached $200 billion a year, equivalent to 2 percent of world trade, with many fakes coming from China.
"Some of those products -- fake medicines, fake car parts, fake aircraft parts -- carry huge risks," Mandelson said, demanding a "clearer demonstration" that Beijing was working to stamp out counterfeiters.
Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi expressed unhappiness at Mandelson's remarks.
"I am extremely dissatisfied," an angry-sounding Wu told reporters after Mandelson spoke. She did not elaborate.
Wu, known as China's "Iron Lady" and who has been put in charge of the product safety brief, had earlier lauded the government's campaign to clean up the manufacturing and export sectors, and asked for greater global cooperation.
"Since the start of the year the Chinese government has taken unprecedented special action to ensure product quality and food safety," she said.
"I sincerely hope that developed nations can offer more to developing countries to enhance their standardization level, improve their food production technology and raise food safety."
Wu's remarks came ahead of a China-EU summit which has been overshadowed by trade tensions.
(1 euro = $1.48)
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley, editing by Nick Macfie and David Fogarty)