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Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Chinese toy group knew of problems

DANGEROUS An industry official said that some Mattel toys had been recalled since March because of risks that children could swallow the small, powerful magnets

AGENCIES , SINGAPORE AND BEIJING

A Chinese boy holds a Barbie and Tanner toy made by US toy giant Mattel, which is still for sale in China despite being recalled in the US, at a department store in Shanghai yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

China knew about problems with magnets on toys as long ago as March, an industry official said yesterday, following a second massive recall of Chinese-made Mattel toys due to hazards from small, powerful magnets.

China has been struggling to convince the world its products are safe after a series of scandals ranging from tainted pet food and drugs to tires, toys and toothpaste.

Mattel Inc, the largest US toy company, recalled millions more Chinese-made toys on Tuesday because of safety risks from the magnets and lead paint and warned it might recall additional products as it steps up testing.

"We knew about the situation, because since March some toys had been recalled due to magnetic parts problems," said an official with the China Toy Association, who declined to be identified.

She did not explain why it had taken so long for something to be done.

The China Toy Association would meet the Commerce Ministry and quality watchdog later in the day to discuss the recall, the official said.

Mattel's global recall involved 436,000 die cast Sarge cars related to the character from the movie Cars because they contained lead paint.

It also extended last November's recall of toys that contain magnets that can be swallowed by children; they included Polly Pocket dolls and Batman action figures. That recall now encompasses 18.2 million magnetic toys worldwide.

In Asia, Mattel said it has started issuing press releases and notices to retailers on the recall. It said the recall in Asia makes up less than 2 percent of the global recall.

"Mattel does not put a price tag on safety. While this recall will most certainly have some financial impact, the company is at the same time, focusing all their efforts on communicating with their customers and rectifying the situation," Mattel Southeast Asia Pt Ltd said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Mattel said the Sarge cars were manufactured by Early Light Industrial Co (旭日實業), a Hong Kong-registered company that makes its toys in China. Early Light subcontracted the painting of the Sarge cars to another company.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council, a semi-government body that markets the territory's businesses to the world, said it was concerned by the recall.

"We are quite surprised as Hong Kong toy manufacturers are renowned for our quality and safety. We understand that the industry is looking into its supply chain," said Lawrence Yau (邱松鶴), a spokesman for the council.

The recall will likely only add to US consumer worries about the made-in-China label. A poll last week of Americans showed that nearly two-thirds said they would support a boycott of Chinese goods.

"There is a very kind of widespread sense in America now that there may be something defective with a number of Chinese prod-ucts," said James Fallows, a US foreign policy lecturer at Shanghai's Fudan University.

The China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Light Industrial Products and Arts and Crafts, another group which represents toy makers, said it was asking members to publicly sign a pledge to improve quality.

"We feel deep pain at the irresponsible behavior of some companies," it said in the pledge letter.

"We cannot let the actions of a small minority of firms hold back the pace of the march forward of the whole industry and must use this lesson as an opportunity to raise management standards for everyone," it said.

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