Have U.S. – EU quality standards been used as a form of protectionism against China?

Posted by Reading Time: 2 minutes

Commentary: Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The news last week that Mattel have recalled one million car toys due to lead paint concerns – apparently the 17th major recall in the past 20 years from China for manufactured toys – has raised of course yet more concerns about the safety of China made product.

Now, while for sure I do not endorse the lowering of reasonable standards of health and safety, I do have to wonder at exactly what level of standards the United States and the EU have been applying to products sourced or manufactured in China and other developing countries.

If Mattel’s toy cars have had their quality control standards lowered by the application of a non-conformative lead paint in China, then the implication is that use of such materials is widespread in the PRC. Yet China has many, many children, all wanting toys. But I don’t get to hear about Chinese children suffering from lead poisoning.

That of course could well be the secrecy that the PRC uses to hide behind problems affecting the nations health. However it could equally be that the developed world has over-legislated when it comes to certain products, and has fixed standards that are deliberately too high. That could be either the result of the ‘nanny’ state, interfering with the norms of the masses by accepting the arguments of a few, (The U.S. population vs government chemists in this case) or could it be a rather more politically influenced reasoning – using deliberately high quality standards, beyond those required, in order to protect home grown markets?

I for one would be interested to learn how many lead paint poisoning cases amongst children there were per annum in the U.S. prior to legislation being drawn up to identify ‘safe’ levels and quantify standards. Because a certain amount of what I see in terms of quality standards that China and the developing world are being asked to reach strike me as being potentially unnecessary.

Chinese scientists working on behalf of some of the larger manufacturers may well want to start to examine some of the toxicological justification for any excessively high standards imposed on products manufactured in the country. And if that is the case, then the political implications could be rather more far reaching than an instance of Mattel just having to recall toy cars.