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It has recently been reported that China has granted the United States diplomatic approval to open three Food and Drug Administration offices in China. The Department of Health and Human Services has advised that 9-12 employees are anticipated and the offices will be opened in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou by the end of the year.

The purpose of the new offices is not to inspect Chinese products but to “build capacity” of the Chinese quality inspection agency and to tighten quality standards for feed and food production.

While this is a step in the right direction, recent experiences with Chinese toys, pet food, tires and a host of other products, would suggest that this effort will be little more than putting one’s finger into a dambreak.

The only thing that will bring about change in manufacturing and product standards will continue to be financial accountability. Strong standards of product liability and recompense for those injured by defective products would have more impact on increasing safety standards than any government mandate or inter-government cooperation. After all, it is in spite of existing mandates from the Chinese government that the defective products continue to make it to our shores. Can we really expect that a non-Chinese agency with no binding authority or enforcement powers will be effective?

Another circumstance that protects foreign manufacturers from financial responsibility for their defective products is the diffuse proliferation of so-called “companies” that purport to be the “manufacturers” of the product. Often the product’s named manufacturer does not even exist. Invisible or non-existent subsidiaries of subsidiaries, or fictitious business entities without addresses or contact persons, shield those that profit from the sales from ever being held accountable for their dangerous products.

This could be stopped if responsibility for defective products ran up the line to every person or entity that in any way participated in the movement of the product to the American market. Those in the export and transport businesses would then have an incentive to assure that the products that they are bringing to our shores are well-designed, manufactured and safe.

Currently, the businesses that bear the most burden for the dangerous product produced on foreign soils are the American retailers. That is because they are identifiable and accountable under American product liability laws. Shifting this burden back to the country of origin and to those responsible for manufacturing the defective products would not only be fair and equitable, it would place the responsibility to pay on those that are reaping the most gains from the exporting enterprise.

While the current Administration efforts may be lauded by some, doesn’t it appear to be nothing more than placing a band-aid over a potentially life threatening wound?

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