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Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 10 News List

`China-free' goods hard to find in the US

MARKET PENETRATION Americans wanting to steer clear of Chinese consumer goods because of health and safety concerns find it a difficult and expensive task


Even as protests grow in the US about imports from China, many Americans may find it hard to manage without the range of products that dominate or in some cases monopolize the marketplace.

Sara Bongiorni, a journalist and author of A Year Without `Made in China', which tells of a yearlong effort by her family in 2005 to avoid buying any Chinese-made products, said the experiment showed how intertwined the two economies are.

"We can live without Chinese imports, sort of," she wrote, adding: "Swearing off Chinese products forever seems impractical, since it might mean we'd never again buy a cellphone, a squirt gun, or one day maybe even a television. We don't want to give up those things for good."

Bongiorni said she discovered that toys, toasters and small electronics come mainly from China, as well as many other goods.

During her yearlong experiment, she said, "I ended up spending almost 70 dollars for tennis shoes for my son, compared to 10 or 15 dollars for those from China."

China exported some US$290 billion worth of products to the US last year, a significant chunk of the US$9.2 trillion of US consumer spending.

"Chinese goods may not make up everything we buy, but they sure are a major portion," said Joel Naroff, an economist who operates a consulting firm Naroff Economic Advisors, in the the foreword to Bongiorni's book.

Naroff said that based on the data, "we should be able to live very easily without having to buy Chinese products. But that just may not be the case, especially for lower- or middle-income families."

"Many goods have components that are made in China but assembled elsewhere. Most manufacturers couldn't care less where the component was initially produced. They only care that it is cheap and fits their needs," Naroff said.

In the wake of the safety scare, Utah-based vitamin maker Food for Health International started labeling its products "China-free."

"We did this to improve the level of confidence in the people taking vitamin supplements," said executive vice president Gary Kolman, who noted that China makes about 85 to 90 percent of the world's supply of synthetic vitamin C and a high percentage of other vitamins.

"The last thing we wanted to imply was that we are anti-China -- absolutely not," Kolman said.

Yet Peter Morici, economist at the University of Maryland, said he does not see the China export juggernaut slowing despite the range of concerns in the US: "The trade deficit with China keeps rising ... If there is a consumer movement out there it has yet to come to any consequence."

Morici said the idea of a boycott having any major impact is "hard to fathom."

"The only way this would work is if it spread to Wal-Mart, which is China's biggest merchant," he said. "If people said they wouldn't go to Wal-Mart because of Chinese products that would change things."

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