BEIJING (AP) — The Chinese-made toys children will receive for Christmas this year will be safe, the head of China's product safety agency said Wednesday, pledging that problems over the use of dangerous lead paint will be resolved in time for holiday exports.
Li Changjiang, the safety inspection chief, said differences with the United States over how much lead paint could be used in toys were being worked out by product safety officials in both countries.
''Before Christmas, we will certainly provide children safer, better and more appealing toys. They will certainly like them,'' Li — who heads the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine — told reporters on the sidelines of a food safety conference.
China has become a center for the world's toy-making industry, exporting US$7.5 billion (euro5.4 billion) worth of toys last year and accounting for nearly 87 percent of the toys imported by the United States, according to China's Commerce Ministry.
But questions about the quality of Chinese toys, food and other exports have grown in recent months after a string of product recalls and import bans. Mattel Inc., the largest American toy company, has issued three product recalls this summer for Chinese-made toys, removing millions of units of Barbie doll accessories, toy cars and other products due to unsafe levels of lead or magnets that too easily detach.
Also Tuesday, the European Union's commissioner for health said China must take action to lower the number of safety violations among its food exports, warning product bans could follow if progress wasn't made.
Chinese food imports annually trigger twice as many safety alerts as the second largest violator, the United States, Markos Kyprianou told reporters in Beijing.
The EU was working with China to sharpen Beijing's ability to catch and prevent food export safety problems: ''But, eventually, if the situation does not improve, we may have to take stricter measures,'' Kyprianou said.
Li reiterated the government's stance that part of the toy recalls were due to changes in U.S. safety standards and were not the fault of the Chinese manufacturers. Still, he said, the issue ''needs the common cooperation of the two countries to unify the standards.''
On Tuesday, Chinese and U.S. safety officials in Washington signed an agreement prohibiting the use of lead paint on toys exported to the United States.
Li said one common international standard limits lead in toy coatings to 90 milligrams per kilogram but another stricter U.S. standard allows 600 milligrams per kilogram but applies to all the toy's components not just its coating.
''Under that standard, some Chinese toys exported to the United States exceeded the total and were unqualified,'' he said. ''Because of the differing standards, the two countries need to jointly cooperate on unifying the standards.''
As part of the agreement with Washington, Beijing also pledged to step up inspections of its exports and take other steps to ensure that Chinese products meet U.S. standards, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Li's agency said Wednesday that three Chinese companies linked to the massive recall of Mattel toys have had their export licenses suspended.
The AQSIQ statement said the three companies based in the southern province of Guangdong and the Shenzhen region, which it did not identify by name, were also temporarily banned from producing products for foreign companies.
''The three companies have been required to carry out self-examinations on overall quality, safety supervision and control,'' it said. ''Local quality watchdogs will be monitoring them.''
AQSIQ did not immediately respond to a telephone request for the company's names.
Kyprianou said Chinese food exports were cited 45 times for violations by the EU between July 1 and Aug. 16 this year, against 25 for the United States, the bloc's largest trading partner.
In 2000, China accounted for 7 percent of the total number of alerts, rising to 12 percent so far this year, he said, calling that a ''worrying trend.''
Kyprianou welcomed Chinese moves to boost food safety such as setting up an inter-ministerial body to coordinate its fragmented monitoring, certification and testing resources.
He said China and the EU were making progress toward implementing an agreement signed last year to give Chinese inspectors direct access to the EU food alert system to allow them to target safety improvements.
''I'm encouraged by the expression of the political will in this respect, but of course, as you realize, in areas of this nature, what is important is the actual result,'' Kyprianou said.