Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What, Us Worry? The Chinese Product Safety Scare

China has its own "Oh, no, not again" problem, as WaPo puts Mattel's third recall of Chinese-made products on the first page of the Sept. 5 Business section. In fact, rarely a day seems to go by without media reports on the Chinese product safety issue. The public outcry seems to be quite substantial, and Congress is likely to pass legislation – mainly symbolic in the short run – that in effect targets Chinese exports to the US by the end of the year. The trail does not stop at the borders either, as the WaPo front page on the same day has another article that displays a less accommodating attitude to its Southeast Asian trading on the same issue.

Compared to this, worries and protests seem to be muted in usually safety-conscious, risk-averse Japan. True, grown-in-China eel disappeared from one of the nearby supermarkets (but not the other) more than a month ago, and I myself have been avoiding Chinese food products (but not Chinese food) when I have the choice, like buying twice-as-expensive domestic garlic. Still, the processed foods shelves continue to display a wide array of Chinese products and products with Chinese ingredients. I'm both too old and too young to have a handle on toys, but the formaldehyde-clothing scare that swept the US, Australia and New Zealand seems to have passed little noticed here.

Like I said, the Japanese public tends to be safety-conscious and risk-averse to a fault. Is it just the lack of domestic victims to stoke the fire? Heavy direct investments into China with concomitant product control easing public concerns? Lack of special interests lobbying against Chinese products? I don't have the confidence to offer any kind of definitive answer. In fact, I may be overestimating the difference between Japan and China on this issue. But I do think that it's real, and I'd like how you feel, and what, if you agree with me, the reasons are.

As I wrote here, there will be times when it is the Japanese media that runs with the China angle. But note that Yomiuri carried it as a US news item, without any reference to any Japanese implications.

No comments: