Cablegate: China Hosts Food and Safety Tour for Foreign Diplomats

DE RUEHGZ #1101/01 2780827
R 050827Z OCT 07




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(U) This document is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly. Not for release outside U.S. government channels. Not
for internet publication.

1. (SBU) Summary: A tour of inspection facilities and export
production sites hosted by the Chinese government offered an
opportunity for dialogue with inspection officials that improved
understanding of China's food safety and product quality system.
Despite obvious staging, it also revealed some of the system's
weaknesses. With press participation throughout, the tour was aimed
at a larger audience than just the diplomatic community. End

2. (SBU) China's General Administration of Quality Supervision,
Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) Vice Minister Wei Chuangzhong
hosted diplomats from sixteen embassies in Beijing on a four-day
tour of local product safety inspection facilities. The tour also
included site visits to agricultural and manufacturing facilities in
Guangdong Province that produce exports to the United States and
other foreign markets. U.S. Embassy Beijing FAS Minister Counselor
William Westman, Embassy Econoff and Congenoff joined the tour and
held a private bilateral meeting with Chinese officials on food
safety issues (reftel).

More Access, Same Message

3. (SBU) VIP treatment and unfettered access to national-level AQSIQ
and local-level China Inspection and Quarantine (CIQ) officials
throughout the September 24-27 trip helped improve foreign
diplomats' understanding of China's product quality inspection
system. (Septel will provide further details on the system's
bureaucracy and procedures.) Local officials were eager to showcase
progress to multiple audiences - not only foreign diplomats in the
delegation, but also Vice Minister Wei and Chinese local and
national media who accompanied the delegation for each site visit
and meeting. According to Vice Minister Wei and other officials, the
inspection tour for diplomats will become a regular activity. He
noted that AQSIQ had offered a similar tour for journalists in late

4. (SBU) At the start of the visit Vice Minister Wei reiterated
well-rehearsed talking points on what AQSIQ perceives to be the
causes of the recent food and product safety incidents: illegal
activities by some enterprises, design flaws, standards, and the
media. Wei noted that some enterprises engaged in illegal activities
had been shut down, including the two firms that produced melamine
involved in recent pet food recalls. He complained about
differences across international markets in standards for
lead-content in toys, ractopamine in pork, and flouoroquinolone
antimicrobials in fish. Wei pointed out that design flaws are the
responsibility of the manufacturer and argued that the media has
exaggerated the safety threat. In addition, he emphasized
cooperative measures China has taken to resolve these issues,
including the Consumer Product Safety Summit with the U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission in September and bilateral negotiations
with USDA.

5. (SBU) Guangdong Province Deputy Secretary General Liu Youjun
repeated Weis concerns about the negative impact of "media hype" and
faulty product designs in one of the final sessions of the tour. He
called on diplomats and others to help repair Guangdong's reputation
for producing quality products. Liu also noted Japanese government
statistics that showed China's 2006 food exports to Japan had fewer
quality problems than U.S. food exports to Japan during the same

Yantian Port - Inspections and Evasion

6. (SBU) During a tour of Yantian Port in Shenzhen, diplomats saw
how import and export inspections are conducted for food,
agricultural and manufactured products. The modern port facilities
include two inspection platforms with over 100 CIQ employees. CIQ
officials can use a video surveillance system to visually monitor
import/export activities at the port in real time from other
Shenzhen CIQ locations. (Note: They also receive live video feeds
from other port and border-crossing facilities, livestock holding
areas, and inspection sites throughout the local jurisdiction. End
note.) A Shenzhen CIQ Deputy Director General explained that local
CIQ offices have their own internal auditors. The official pointed
out that two inspectors must sign off on all inspection reports as a
counter-corruption measure. However, he noted that some companies

GUANGZHOU 00001101 002 OF 003

evade the export quality control system by packing their products in
boxes labeled as other goods with fraudulent manifests.

7. (SBU) At the time of the port tour, inspectors were examining
import shipments of frozen poultry, cut lumber, and hardwood veneer
from the United States as well as flower bulbs from the EU and
hydraulic oil from Taiwan. They checked the shipments for
discrepancies with shipping manifests and took samples for lab
analysis at local CIQ laboratories. Foreign diplomats expressed
concern that frozen U.S. poultry was allowed to sit out on the open
air inspection platform for more than a few minutes for the purpose
of the inspection demonstration. In addition to import products, CIQ
officials were also inspecting Chinese export products such as
canned water chestnuts, Christmas lights, office chairs and sofas to
ensure accurate shipping manifests and product labels before release
from China. CIQ officials at the port and throughout the tour gave
conflicting accounts of the percentage of food and manufactured
products that are actually inspected upon import or export. Despite
these discrepancies, it appears that food and medical products are
inspected more closely and frequently than most other manufactured

Testing Labs - An Expensive Investment

8. (SBU) Shenzhen and Guangdong CIQ Offices opened three of their
product testing laboratories to the delegation and proudly displayed
advanced equipment and facilities at each site. The three-year-old
facilities at the Zhongshan District CIQ laboratory included three
Level 2 clean rooms, featuring multiple sealed doors and independent
ventilation systems. Local CIQ officials said that China continues
to acquire more advanced technologies for product testing at CIQ
labs. During the tour, they pointed out individual testing stations
and quoted prices in excess of US$250,000 for certain machines.
Nevertheless, one AQSIQ officials complained that high equipment
costs were an obstacle to China further expanding its testing
regime. He implied that China some parts of the testing system were
unnecessary and had been implemented primarily due to pressure from
foreign governments and the media.

Toy Manufacturers Emphasize Variation in Standards
--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (SBU) During visits to two Chinese toy companies, Early Light
Manufacturing and Jetta Company Limited, executives gave detailed
reviews of their internal testing procedures and facilities. Both
firms manufacture toys for global brand-name clients that are
exported to various markets around the world. Managers at Early
Light explained that it is certified by CIQ to conduct its own
testing. However, they noted that CIQ still visits the factory to
conduct independent testing and gather samples.

10. (SBU) Executives at both firms repeatedly emphasized
difficulties caused by variation in safety standards. They
highlighted different U.S. and EU toy safety standards for
acceptable lead-content levels and drop height testing requirements
(to measure breakage of toys dropped on concrete to prevent injury
to children). An executive at Early Light also explained how a
change in the U.S. standard for lead content had led to the recent
Mattel recalls. He said that Early Light had become aware of a
change in the U.S. standard in late July and immediately notified
Mattel that some toys already on shelves did not meet the new
standard. According to the Early Light executive, Mattel was not
initially aware of the standard change. He said Mattel started
sending employees to conduct frequent tests at Early Light's
facilities after the recalls.

Vegetable and Eel Farms - Lack of Understanding
--------------------------------------------- --

11. (SBU) The tour also included visits to the Guangzhou Dongsheng
Demonstration Farm, a processing center for the export of
conventional and organic vegetables, as well as the Xulong Group, an
eel farm and processing center for baked eel exports to Japan, Korea
and the United States. Each site appeared clean with appropriate
quality control procedures in place. However, several diplomats in
the delegation expressed concern at obvious staging of the
demonstrations and an apparent lack of understanding by managers at
the sites about how testing and production procedures are designed
to avoid contamination.

12. (SBU) Agriculture attaches from the EU and New Zealand noted
that the Guangzhou demonstration farm had no permanent processing
tables in vegetable sorting and packing areas, raising questions
about procedures for limiting contamination. In addition, managers

GUANGZHOU 00001101 003 OF 003

at the farm were unable to adequately describe procedures for
maintaining separation of conventional and organic vegetables
transshipped through the same facility.

13. (SBU) Managers of the eel processing center proudly displayed
sophisticated testing equipment and procedures, but seemed to lack
understanding of how certain tests might be used to enhance product
quality. Foreign agricultural attaches commented that although
testing appeared to be thorough and professional, process design
might need improvement to ensure that unnecessary and costly
protocols are not implemented simply for the sake of appearances.

Comment - For Public Consumption

14. (SBU) The presence of journalists throughout the tour
underscored the fact that it was a public relations effort aimed at
a larger audience than just the diplomatic community. In one of the
closing sessions with cameras rolling, Vice Minister Wei urged the
foreign diplomats to comment on the tour and make suggestions for
China's next steps on product safety. When one diplomat pointed out
that the current Chinese inspection system might inadvertently
overlook small-scale and unregistered producers, Wei gave an
immediate and vigorous rebuttal. Comments from another diplomat that
seemed to praise China's system without equivocation were quoted the
following day in the China Daily newspaper.


© Scoop Media

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