China agrees to product safeguards
An accord signed Tuesday also opens more cities to American goods and services.
Published December 12, 2007
BEIJING - China and the United States signed agreements Tuesday to increase safeguards over Chinese products and to open up mid-sized Chinese cities to American imports, a move aimed at assuaging critics of Beijing's massive trade surplus.
The agreements came on the first day of a series of trade talks that Washington hopes will yield real progress on increasing U.S. exports to China. Washington's trade deficit with China will likely surpass last year's record $233-billion, according to U.S. Commerce Department figures, amplifying calls in Congress for punishing legislation over what some call unfair Chinese trade practices.
Coinciding with talks, China announced that its global trade surplus totaled $26.28-billion in November, showing demand for low-cost Chinese goods has not waned despite recalls and warnings over faulty or tainted products, ranging from toothpaste to tires.
During the first 11 months of the year, China's global trade surplus totaled $238.9-billion, 53 percent greater than the same period a year ago, the Chinese government said.
Trade officials from both sides warned of protectionism with the new trade figures likely to complicate talks. U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the answer was to boost U.S. exports rather than limit imports from China.
Other agreements include the development and production of biofuels, opening China's second-tier cities to U.S. exports, and expanding U.S. access to Chinese markets for goods and services, from agriculture to telecommunications.
China's exports have come under intense scrutiny this year as a number of potentially deadly chemicals have been found in goods including toothpaste, toys and seafood.
In March, tainted pet food made in China was blamed for the deaths of cats and dogs in North America.
Last month, regulators found the coating on beads in a popular toy sold globally, and manufactured in China, metabolized into the "date-rape" drug gamma hydroxy butyrate when ingested.
U.S. Health Secretary Mike Leavitt said two agreements on food and animal feed, drugs and medical devices, would "enhance the safety of scores of household items the American people consume on a daily basis."
A Health Department statement said the agreements will increase information exchanges and require registration for exporters.
Tuesday's talks on near-term regulatory and legal issues will be followed today and Thursday by the Strategic Economic Dialogue that grapples with longer-term economic plans.