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Vice Minister Gao answers questions on export quality and food safety

  

Question: According to the latest survey by the Chinese government, “problem products” did exist in export. How do you see the quality issue of Chinese export?

  

Answer: First, we need to see things in perspectives. The "problem products" comprise only a miniscule percentage of the overall exports of China. Doubting the quality of all Chinese export products based on such a tiny percentage is therefore not a "scientific" way of looking at things. The figure recently released by Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed that 99.42% of imported foods from China to Japan were safe and up-to-the-standard, compared with the 98.69% of those from the US and 99.38% from the European Union.

Second, we need to see things in a developmental way. China is a developing country, its economic and technological level still lagging behind the developed countries by a wide gap. With a small number of enterprises having little or no awareness of social responsibility, product quality issues are almost inevitable at the present stage.

Like the governments of other countries, Chinese government had attached great importance to product quality and safety issues. Instead of avoiding problems, we confronted them in an honest and responsible way. As to the recent cases, so long as the responsibility lay in the Chinese side, we had taken effective measures to penalize the enterprises involved and tighten control over export order.

Q: Are there any laws or regulations concerning export quality? What measures have the Ministry of Commerce (MOC) taken to monitor export quality?

A:The Foreign Trade Law expressly stipulates that the State imposes restriction or prohibition on the import and export of certain goods for the sake of the health, safety and life of human being, animals and plants, and for the sake of environmental protection, and that the State holds a unified product quality accreditation system, providing certification, accreditation, inspection and quarantine for import and export goods. For those enterprises violating laws or regulations, their foreign trade operation permits shall be suspended for a period ranging from one to three years. As to the offenses which constitute crimes, the offending enterprises shall be subject to criminal prosecution pursuant to law.

In recent years, MOC tightened its monitoring over violating enterprises and strengthened the punishment on them:

First, we had accelerated the pace of setting up a foreign trade credit system.

Second, we established a blacklist of export enterprises, meting out punishment to those enterprises violating laws or regulations.

Third, together with the Customs, Foreign Exchange, Quality Supervision and Inspection, and Revenue authority, we set up a “foreign trade dealers offenses information exchange system,” keeping track of misbehaving dealers and finally clearing them out of the picture.

Four, we set up a special column of “foreign trade order” on our official website, posting the laws and regulations concerning foreign trade and the typical cases of violation. It increased the transparency of government ministry operation and also deterred potential offenses.

Q: What is the Chinese government’s attitude towards international cooperation on product quality safety?

A: Quality safety is a global issue, not particular to any individual country. Quality scandals kept occurring around the world in recent years: Britain’s Sudan Red scare in 2005, US’s “Toxic Spinach” are cases in point. The World Health Organization lately announced that they received 200 food safety reports from 193 member countries per month. Therefore, as far as food safety is concerned, finger-pointing is meaningless and useless. The only way out is strengthening international cooperation.

Based on this understanding, MOC had called for food safety cooperation within APEC countries in 2005, and initiated the APEC Food Safety Forum together with Australia in 2006. MOC’s future plans of international cooperation include:

First, to strengthen international cooperation and exchange with a view to upgrading inspection and quarantine technology, improving legislations on import and export product quality, and better executing the related laws and regulations;

Second, in accord with the TBT and SPS principles of WTO, to strengthen multi-lateral cooperation and exchange in risk assessment and management;

Third, to encourage industry associations and enterprises to participate in the setting of international standards, to strengthen cooperation in risk control and product quality control, and to promote the use of international standards or the standards of importing countries;

Fourth, to establish an emergency consulting mechanism between governments in terms of joint investigations and clarifications, and to explore the possibilities of better emergency mechanism to address the sudden outbreak of product quality crises.

Q: How do you understand the role of “Made-in-China” products in international trade?

A: With the rapid growth of China’s foreign trade since the opening up and reform, “Made-in-China” products have become a vital force in international trade. In 2006, our total export had reached 969 billion us dollars, 100 times higher than that of 1978. China now poses as the third largest exporter after Germany and the US. Also, China serves as the biggest importing origin country for Japan, and the second biggest for the US. “Made-in-China” products, with their competitive price and good quality, have played a significant role in cutting down global production costs and optimizing international allocation of resources.

Made-in-China products are also indispensable to consumers all over the world. China ranked the first in the world’s export of more than 700 products, including air conditioner, DVD player, camera, and laptop computer. China sent over 1 billion us dollars’ goods per hour to the whole world.

Made-in-China products are also the result of international division of labor and cooperation. In terms of trade form, over 50% of China’s export is processing trade, with products made according to the requirements and standards of foreign orders. In terms of exporting entity, foreign-invested ventures account for 58% of China’s export. Made-in-China products have registered the cooperation and fair competition between state-owned, private and foreign-invested enterprises. In this sense, “Made in China” is also “Made in the World.”

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