China fears alarm over product safety could stoke trade protectionism, a senior official told visiting U.S. officials as a massive toy recall threatened to intensify consumer worry about the "made in China" brand.
In the latest scare, Mattel said it was recalling 1.5 million Fisher-Price toys globally because their paint could contain too much lead.
The Chinese product quality watchdog told the U.S. delegation that the country was tackling food and drug safety after a string of health scares have shaken consumer confidence.
"We won't avoid problems, but we disapprove of ignoring the facts and of alarmism that takes isolated things for the whole, and we oppose trade protection and discrimination," said a deputy chief of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, Wei Chuanzhong, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Wei said disagreements between countries over product quality and food safety should be settled "through dialogue, negotiation, investigation and seeking out the facts".
His words appeared unlikely to shift Washington from tougher scrutiny of Chinese-made goods, especially after toys joined a growing list of problem products.
Mattel said the toys, which include characters like Elmo and Big Bird, were made by a contract manufacturer in China using non-approved paint pigment containing lead.
The United States stepped up inspections of imports from China after a chemical additive in pet food caused the death of some pets there this spring. Since then, poisonous ingredients have been found in Chinese exports of toys, toothpaste and fish, while the deaths of patients in Panama was blamed on improperly labelled Chinese chemicals that were mixed into cough syrup.
Problem Iverstated: China
"Our U.S. regulatory agencies are concerned about what they see as insufficient infrastructure across the board in China to assure the safety, quality and effectiveness of many products exported to the United States," the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in an earlier statement announcing its fact-finding visit.
But Beijing has complained that it is the victim of biased news reports that have grossly overstated the depth of the quality problem and are being used to stoke protectionist demands.
It has said 99.2% of its food exports to the United States in 2006 met quality standards. Critics say the United States inspects only a sliver of the food shipments from China and other big suppliers.
Wei said Beijing was taking quality issues seriously. But he stressed that China did not want to be singled out. "Improving overall product quality and food safety is a shared task of the
international community," he said.
The U.S. delegation, led by Department of Health and Human Services chief of staff Rich McKeown, arrived in China on Tuesday for a five-day visit. The department has said it is preparing the way for fresh agreements with China on food and medical product safety.