New Report Outlines Substantial Progress Made on Import Safety

Significant improvement has been made since last year to enhance the safety of imported products, according to a new report released this week by the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety. Titled "Import Safety--Action Plan Update," the report outlines steps taken by the federal government, private sector, and international partners to bolster import safety. Since November 2007, there have been strong enforcement actions, signed agreements with key trading partners, bilateral and multilateral discussions, critical information shared on safety and best practices, and a process begun to improve safety practices both inside and outside of government, the report said.

"I am convinced that countries that lead the charge for safety in a global marketplace will prosper as they protect the health and safety of their citizens and effectively facilitate trade," said Mike Leavitt, Department of Health & Human Services secretary. "I am proud to report that the United States is at the forefront of this charge."

President Bush established an Interagency Working Group on Import Safety in July 2007 and appointed Leavitt as chairperson. The President charged the Working Group with conducting a comprehensive, government-wide review to identify actions and appropriate steps to promote the safety of imported products. In November 2007, the Working Group completed the "Action Plan for Import Safety,” a national strategy based on the principles of prevention, intervention, and response. It contains 14 broad recommendations and 50 specific short- and long-term action steps to better protect consumers and enhance the safety of the increasing volume of imports entering the United States.

The new Action Plan Update chronicles the substantial progress made by the federal government, private sector, and international partners over the last eight months, and also previews selected plans for the near- and long-term. Accomplishments include:

  • The Justice Department has indicted two Chinese businesses and a U.S. company for their roles in manufacturing and importing tainted ingredients used in pet food.
  • The Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency is coordinating to ensure harmonized government procedures and requirements exist in importation. CBP is working toward a shared automated system permitting information gathering and sharing among participating import safety agencies.
  • HHS signed and has begun to implement landmark Memoranda of Agreement with China to enhance the safety of a wide variety of food, feed, drugs, and medical devices traded between the two nations.
  • EPA signed an agreement with China to protect human health and the environment in the field of imported and exported products.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Memorandum of Understanding with China and implemented agreements in key consumer product categories.
  • CBP and CPSC are working with the private sector to explore including an import safety component in CBP's Importer Self-Assessment Program.
  • The Toy Industry Association partnered with the American National Standards Institute to create a safety assurance program for toys.
  • Discovering an increase in adverse reactions to heparin, the Food and Drug Administration linked the contaminant to Chinese suppliers and has worked with the Chinese government subsequently to improve testing. This process was more efficient due to two previous Memoranda of Agreement that were put in place last December to enhance the safety of a wide variety of food, feed, drugs, and medical devices traded between the two nations.
  • The U.S. government participated in a forum with Central American countries to discuss ways to ensure the safety of manufactured goods and foods as they move between countries. Similar discussions have occurred with the leaders of other countries, including China, Vietnam, and India.

IWG says administration officials will continue to work with Congress to seek enactment of the recommendations from the November 2007 Action Plan requiring legislation. For example, FDA should be able to require, as a condition of import, an assurance that certain high-risk products comply with the agency's requirements. Similarly, CPSC should be granted follow-up recall authority. The Department of Agriculture, CPSC, and FDA would all benefit from having asset forfeiture remedies as an option for remedying criminal offenses.

Last year, the United States imported more than $2 trillion worth of products. These products were brought to the United States by roughly 825,000 importers, through over 300 ports of entry. All projections indicate that this volume will continue to rise, sharply, over the coming years as the scale and complexity of international trade multiplies. More information on efforts to improve import safety, including the new report, is available at www.importsafety.gov.

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