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Toxic Products Double Talk, US Politicians Tried to Sell To China

Some say China has Quality problems with its manufacturing?

How about US?  Here are 2 US politicians, NOT merely looking the other way, but actually ACTIVELY pushing known bad products to China.  The same politicians who publicly criticized China for the “Made In China” quality problem.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/09/us-wiki-china-baxter-idUSTRE7287OR20110309?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews

U.S. officials pushed products deemed unsafe by China

6:01pm EST

By Emily Flitter

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When it comes to protecting consumers, American politicians in China don’t always practice what they preach, unpublished U.S. diplomatic cables show.

In 2007, two U.S. Congressmen privately admonished a Chinese official about the sudden spike in potentially harmful Made-in-China products being shipped around the world, according to a cable from the U.S. embassy in Beijing obtained by WikiLeaks and provided to Reuters by a third party.

At the time, China was under fire from the United States and other nations for a host of toxic exports — everything from lead paint in toys to poisonous chemical substitutes for ingredients in medicine and pet food. In August of that year, Mattel alone was compelled to recall 20 million toys that had been manufactured in China.

Two years later, the cables show, the same U.S. Congressmen — Mark Kirk, then a House Republican from Illinois, and Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington — returned to Beijing, only this time they had an entirely different message. Kirk and Larsen asked Chinese officials to look the other way as an American company failed to meet regulations restricting the use of a toxic chemical in medical equipment sold to Chinese hospitals.

The company, Baxter Healthcare, was making blood bags for intravenous delivery using polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic softener that has been banned in some other parts of the world. A chemical found in PVC has been shown to build up in humans, causing developmental defects in children, among other things. The European Union banned the chemical in question — commonly known as DEHP — from all household products this year.

According to the diplomatic cables, China was seeking to do the same for its hospitals. Its regulators had already stipulated that new IV bags must be manufactured without PVCs.

On behalf of Baxter, however, the two Congressmen pressed the Chinese commerce minister to buy time for the company, which was the third largest contributor to Kirk’s 2008 reelection campaign. In 2010 he was elected a senator, filling the vacant Illinois seat left by President Barack Obama.

While the United States is a recognized leader in consumer safety standards, some experts fear that an inconsistent diplomatic message could jeopardize its ability to insist others abide by the same beliefs.

“If we want to really focus on the issue, we’ve got to be consistent,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, who is the founding editor of Global Health Governance, a journal dealing with international health security issues. “You don’t want to leave a credibility gap for the Chinese to criticize.”

HEALTH HAZARDS

Based in Deerfield, Illinois, Baxter International is a medical equipment maker best known for making vaccines and IV solutions, with annual revenue of $12.84 billion in 2010. The company has long denied that DEHP is harmful, though it has been making an alternative line of IV equipment free of the chemical in the United States for some time. While there is no outright ban on the use of PVCs in the United States, some major hospital companies have voluntarily halted their use.

For its part, the Chinese government has had restrictions in place on DEHP for over 20 years.

“DEHP has a number of known health hazards,” Tin-Lap Lee, associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Medical Sciences, told Reuters in an interview. “It’s classified as carcinogen and may cause reproductive and developmental effects.”

The first time China regulated DEHP content in plastics was in 1988. The government updated its regulations in 1995 and 2004, and today at least three regulations govern its use there. They specify safe levels of the chemical for medical products such as blood storage bags, blood transfusion materials and blood tubes, all of which are commonly made of PVC. These restrictions state that contaminants in these products must not exceed certain limits.

A spokeswoman for Baxter International declined to specify how many IV bags Baxter sells in China, but said the company was “the leading manufacturer of flexible, closed-system IV solutions in China, serving the country’s leading hospitals.”

She said a new product Baxter is working on “meets the regulations” in China, and that “pending regulatory approvals, we are preparing for full commercial launch later this year.” She added that the old IV bags would no longer be sold once the new line was introduced.

Asked if Baxter is currently selling IV bags that don’t meet regulatory requirements, she replied: “We are still working through the details of the transition with authorities and hospitals to ensure there is no disruption to supply of vital products to hospitals.”

THE CONGRESSMEN

Kirk and Larsen have traveled to China together three times over the past five years as co-chairs of the U.S.-China Working Group of the U.S. Congress, which they co-founded in 2005. The group connects members of Congress with Chinese academics, businesspeople and politicians. Over that period they have held talks with dozens of Chinese officials, including with the nation’s vice premier, commerce secretary and assistant foreign minister.

It is by no means uncommon for members of Congress to travel to China and lobby on behalf of constituents. Yet a review of dozens of cables describing congressional delegations to China reveals no other instance of a U.S. politician requesting rule changes to help an American firm.

At the time of Kirk’s 2009 visit to China, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Illinois’ 10th district, the wealthy northern suburbs of Chicago where Baxter is headquartered. The company’s political action committee and its executives are among Kirk’s largest campaign contributors, providing him with a total of $98,900 over the past 10 years.

Baxter executives have not contributed to Larsen’s fundraising activities in any significant way, but two other companies with substantial business ties in China do: Boeing and Honeywell International.

DOUBLE STANDARD

The first time Kirk and Larsen spoke with the Chinese about product safety, it was to admonish China’s Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei for scandals in 2007 involving Chinese goods exported to the United States that were found to contain toxins such as lead.

“Representative Larsen urged China to address U.S. concerns about the safety of Chinese exports, particularly food products and toys,” reads a cable describing Kirk and Larsen’s meeting with He on Aug 27, 2007.

“It would be a mistake for China to ‘underestimate the passion of the American public on this issue,'” Larsen told He.

Two years later, however, the two were making the opposite request, asking for leniency in medical product regulations.

A spokeswoman from Larsen’s office said Larsen was too busy to comment on the story, but added:

“Congressman Larsen, along with many others, has worked to help China raise its product safety standards by promoting and securing a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presence in China, and his understanding of the Baxter products is that they are FDA certified, sold in the United States, safe for use, China wants something different than the standards the FDA approved for this product and Baxter needs more time to fully comply with the Chinese regulation.”

A spokeswoman for Kirk said: “The USFDA is the gold standard for safe and effective medical supplies. Once FDA approves a product, Senator Kirk will advocate for its export to boost jobs and U.S. leadership. The claims against these products by the Chinese government are thinly veiled attempts to stop American competitors.”

WHY THE PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT?

The United States lobbied hard on Baxter’s behalf. In a meeting with China’s Minister of Commerce Chen Deming on May 31, 2009, Kirk asked for more time for Baxter to meet China’s regulations, arguing that a crackdown on Baxter would hurt the company’s Shanghai plant.

The cable describing the meeting doesn’t convey the exact wording of Kirk’s request, but it does describe Chen’s response:

“He said that while he lacked the requisite technical knowledge, if additional time for phasing in a new regulation would help preserve employment in China and made economic sense, this would seem to be good.”

A note in the cable adds: “(U.S. government) officials have raised this issue at a sub-ministerial level in the past with (the Ministry of Commerce).”

Ira Kasoff, then the deputy assistant secretary for Asia at the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, asked National Development and Reform Commission Director General Chen Bin in a meeting on April 1, 2009 to “give Baxter China adequate time to phase out the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in intravenous infusion bags or face possible job losses.”

Kasoff no longer works for the Commerce Department; he’s a senior counselor at APCO Worldwide, a Washington-based consulting firm.

“I did, along with others, try to speak to the Chinese about allowing enough of a transitional time for allowing these companies to make the adjustment,” Kasoff said in an interview, adding that he did not remember many details.

“It was a fairly complicated changeover and they had to retool the factories.”

Of Baxter, he said “they have a long-term commitment to China and they’ve made major investments there.”

Questions remain over what the Chinese agreed to do in response to the U.S. request on behalf of Baxter. The Baxter spokeswoman insisted that the problem was not one of time but rather of complicated coordination between different Chinese regulators that was holding Baxter up in its efforts to retool its four Chinese factors to make non-PVC IV bags.

Kasoff suggested that the person who would know the story best was J.V. Schwan, a former Commerce Department official who did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Schwan left his job as deputy chief of staff at the Commerce Department in late 2008 to become a lobbyist for Baxter.

(Additional reporting by Ee Lyn Tan in Hong Kong and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Jim Impoco and Claudia Parsons)

 

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  1. Pete Jones
    March 9th, 2011 at 21:24 | #1

    ‘Look, what we are trying to do is to counter the misinformation and bigotry in the Western media to mislead the Western public into thinking everything made in China is “bad” and as if done willfully.’ (posted elsewhere on HH by one of its regular contributors).

    Yes, this is an article by the Western media exposing Western political malfeasance and hypocrisy, and poor industrial practises. That (as opposed to disseminating Government propaganda) is the job of the press. This is a fair and balanced piece of journalism highlighting a serious issue that will now be scrutinised and, one would hope, addressed.

    Perhaps you could point me towards (non-Hong Kong) Chinese media articles that deal with Chinese political/industrial malpractice in a similar fashion.

  2. Charles Liu
    March 10th, 2011 at 00:40 | #2

    The Chinese media reported the following:

    – the tainted milk powder story. Baidu “三鹿奶粉事件”, they’re still talking about it.

    – the lesser known fake “purple clay hotpot” product. Baidu “美的紫砂煲事件”.

    – they also reported, on many occasion, fake product on popular website Taobao. Baidu “淘宝皇冠店售假”

    – on the political front, Chinese media have been exposing corruption for years. From corrupted govenor to party leader’s children running over people in cars

    – how about more mundain political reporting such as advocating issues like death penalty reform, property rights (remember the nail house reports?)

    Yup, Chinese media does the same thing.

  3. cc
    March 10th, 2011 at 00:52 | #3

    Pete,

    The way you project your argument appears to be a bit childish. Look,we are not biased this time on this matter, so we are not biased all the time on all matters.

    If you believe that there is no misinformation and bigotry in the Western media that should be exposed, be your own guest.

  4. Pete Jones
    March 10th, 2011 at 04:59 | #4

    Of course, I’m familiar with the cases quoted. The reality is that, given restrictions on reporting in China, most things that get into the Western news are (at least initially) taken from local media reports, often word-for-word. However, I think it’s disingenuous to say that these are widely reported upon. Bear in mind I lived in China, and can get by quite well in Chinese.

    Here’s how it goes: local reporters break a story, which is then squashed if it’s too sensitive. Sometimes it gets into the Chinese blogosphere; mob justice follows. When public outrage gets so great that even the censors can’t eliminate it, the authorities make an example of the perpetrators. The Li Gang and Sanlu cases are good examples of how it goes. It’s not reported on widely – it’s suppressed, leaks out, people go nuts on the internet (the only realistic way they can protest), the government reacts and THEN coverage is allowed (in a controlled fashion).

    Now, whether online gossip, mob justice and the consequent closed court case, followed by a terse statement from the authorities, constitute reportage and the rule of law? Debatable. In any case, illusions of ‘netizen power’ are just that, an illusion, when the Government can simply switch off the internet for 10 months.

    How do I know this? Because I witnessed it first hand. I was present in Urumqi during and after the ‘7-5’ riots. The initial riot was much as the Chinese media reported, completely reprehensible; innocent Han beaten and killed by a Uighur mob. I condemn it unreservedly, and didn’t agree with the way it was (initially) covered in some Western newspapers. It seemed the authorities were learning. I’d expected a clampdown similar to what happened after Lhasa in 2008 (and is happening right now, incidentally). That wasn’t the case. However, after that first day things in Urumqi didn’t go quite as the Chinese media portrays. The city was locked down, and all internet activity suspended – apart from horrific pictures of dead Han posted up on the Tianshan provincial intranet. Nobody has ever been held publicly accountable for the decision to post those pictures (taken down soon after), but there was only ever going to be one result. On 7-7, the authorities stood back and allowed Han mobs to rampage throughout the city, beating and killing any Uighur stupid enough to go outside. A police friend later admitted they were given permission to go plain clothes and take part. I myself intervened to stop a mob of Han beating a Uighur with pipes and a pickaxe; I am in no doubt he would be dead if I hadn’t done so. This has never been reported in the Chinese media, and nobody has ever been held accountable. Indeed, even talking about it was made an offence. Wang Lequan, the corrupt incompetent who should have been held responsible, has been allowed to step aside with the billions he’s stolen, to avoid embarrassment for senior Party hierarchy. The internet was shut down, not for reasons of security, but to stop Xinjiang people complaining. As someone who’d defended Chinese media to western friends, that was a real eye-opener.

    THIS is why an independent press is important, not just an ideological talking point. An independent press protected by the law would have got to the bottom of this, and maybe even prevented it happening in the first place. The Western media don’t just criticize China – they criticize EVERY institution, ESPECIALLY our own authorities. That’s their job. It’s not perfect, sometimes they get it wrong (in which case they can be held legally accountable), but it works.

    Childish? Guys, you need to grow up and deal with your insecurities.

    Apologies for ‘rambling’, but I’m now in Beijing Airport about to leave China, so won’t have the time to post follow-ups.

  5. March 10th, 2011 at 06:33 | #5

    You are veering off topic, Pete. Consider this a warning.

    The point of this article is also that Western media are hardly independent. They are easily influenced by political convenience of the majority.

    The information of US politicians’ conducts was buried by the US government, UNPUBLISHED, UNREPORTED!!

    ONLY now it is OBTAINED through wikileak, AFTER many years!

    *
    Speaking of Childish, if we have to wait YEARS to know the truth, then what’s the use of this “independent” Media?

    Rumors would travel faster than that, and China is full of rumor mills!

    Now, the “Independent” Western media surely jumped all over this story about US government coverups, as much as they jumped all over what’s UNREPORTED in China about ethnic violence and corrupt officials (who are arrested and/or forced to resign anyways)?

    On the contrary, we can plainly see the total dirth of criticism of US government coverups in this case.

    Are there going to be demands for investigations, outraged commentators railing against Baxter (who also was responsible for importing tainted Heparin from China and sold in US causing death, who is now accused of force selling toxic medical equipment MADE IN US to Chinese patients)?

    Really, where is the criticism against Baxter? Seems like they are still getting away it, with the help of the US government.

    “It works” you say?

    What works? Is this report going to stop Baxter or any of these US politicians from doing it again?

    OK, don’t complain, next time BAXTER poisons some US patients.

    And don’t give me the “it’s not perfect” line.

    Your partisan media don’t work any better than any other partisan media.

  6. Charles Liu
    March 10th, 2011 at 13:10 | #6

    @Pete Jones, “This has never been reported in the Chinese media, and nobody has ever been held accountable.”

    Your claim is false. The Chinese media did report Hans being arrested for attacking Uyghur, I read it myself.

  7. r v
    March 10th, 2011 at 14:33 | #7

    Now, it’s ONE thing that a Chinese supplier contaminated Heparin supply that went to Baxter, who also did not adequately test the supply, NOR did the FDA test it properly or trace the source of the contamination.

    Here, it’s ENTIRELY a different thing, where 2 US elected politicians ACTIVELY with fore knowledge of toxic product try to PUSH the Chinese government to bypass laws, for the BENEFIT of profits for the political donor (BAXTER). AND on top of it, US government COVERED IT up, ACTIVELY with knowledge!

    Case one, “independent” press screams bloody murder, and implies malicious intent by some unnamed Chinese connected SOMEHOW to the Chinese Communist Party government, in a court of public opinion. (Mob insanity, paranoid, and insecurity).

    Case two, “independent” press whimpers, at the clear evidence (self-admission) of malicious intent for profit by 2 NAMED US politicians and COVERUP.

  8. Charles Liu
    March 10th, 2011 at 14:47 | #8

    And this is not the first time US officials tried to push toxic product on behalf of their industry:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/IG26Cb02.html

    HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson went to China to sell Mortage Backed Security in summer of 2007, months after Goldman Sachs started shorting MBS.

  9. March 11th, 2011 at 06:29 | #9

    *I note from the article:

    “A spokeswoman for Kirk said: “The USFDA is the gold standard for safe and effective medical supplies. Once FDA approves a product, Senator Kirk will advocate for its export to boost jobs and U.S. leadership. The claims against these products by the Chinese government are thinly veiled attempts to stop American competitors.””

    *
    So, US FDA is the “gold standard”??

    Well, in that case, the US FDA never caught the heparin problem from Baxter, then why blame Chinese suppliers for the problem?? The “gold standard” let it pass, no problem, right?

    Oh, I see, if a US company passes the “gold standard”, there is no problem (even if the Chinese government found a problem, that other countries also recognized). But if a problem comes up later, it’s not the fault of the US company, or the “gold standard”, it’s the Chinese (or someone else) problem.

    Yeah, KIRK and LARSEN (or Larry and Moe), MAJOR FAIL on your “Gold Standard”. If you are going to blame Chinese companies for problems that your “gold standard” did NOT catch, then you have no “gold standard”. (and let’s face it, the FDA has been pretty sloppy with all the problem drugs it approved in the US in the last decade.) It’s obvious your “passions” on this issue is all about campaign money!

  10. March 11th, 2011 at 07:48 | #10

    Speaking of QC again,

    http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/10/news/companies/johnson_mcneil_fda_action/

    FDA shutting down 3 Tylenol plants in US after almost 2 years of problems and recalls. (2 years?!)

    OK, I can see some new equipment/ new drugs having problems, but “Tylenol”? That has been made in USA for DECADES!

    Hmmm… Cutting corners in US QC for profits?

    Too bad J&J doesn’t have Chinese suppliers to scapegoat, eh? (Now, I bet they wish they HAD some Chinese suppliers.)

  11. xian
    March 12th, 2011 at 01:00 | #11

    Well it’s normal for countries to lament about foreign products. To be honest given the amount of manufacturing located in China, the percentage of faulty products for export is not particularly high. Not to mention one has to also consider that many products made in China are meant to be extremely low cost/quality to begin with, people are getting what they paid for.

  12. SilentChinese
    March 12th, 2011 at 11:46 | #12

    Charles Liu :And this is not the first time US officials tried to push toxic product on behalf of their industry:
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/IG26Cb02.html
    HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson went to China to sell Mortage Backed Security in summer of 2007, months after Goldman Sachs started shorting MBS.

    FUBAR.

  13. SilentChinese
    March 12th, 2011 at 11:59 | #13

    raventhorn2000 :Speaking of QC again,
    http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/10/news/companies/johnson_mcneil_fda_action/
    FDA shutting down 3 Tylenol plants in US after almost 2 years of problems and recalls. (2 years?!)
    OK, I can see some new equipment/ new drugs having problems, but “Tylenol”? That has been made in USA for DECADES!
    Hmmm… Cutting corners in US QC for profits?
    Too bad J&J doesn’t have Chinese suppliers to scapegoat, eh? (Now, I bet they wish they HAD some Chinese suppliers.)

    actually alot of vitamins are made in CHina… China dominates it and alot of others;

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003732744_vitamins03.html
    “In less than a decade, China has captured 90 percent of the U.S. market for vitamin C, driving almost everyone else out of business.

    Chinese pharmaceutical companies also have taken over much of the world market in the production of antibiotics, analgesics, enzymes and primary amino acids. According to an industry group, China makes 70 percent of the world’s penicillin, 50 percent of its aspirin and 35 percent of its acetaminophen (often sold under the brand name Tylenol), as well as the bulk of vitamins A, B12, C and E.”

    The branded Tylenol as far as i know does its own manufacturing in US.

  14. hoodwinked1
    January 26th, 2012 at 05:20 | #14

    It is apparently clear that our politicians are in office for their self serving interests. If Toxic product is to affect their preferred industry they will use what ever influence to remedy this loss. CAN YOU SAY SOLD OUT. The American consumer is being sold out on many fronts, and don’t tell me it’s our quest for cheap products. As The Toxins keep invading the United States how long before enough is enough. The proof is in the product,Toxic Chinese Drywall!!! No one admits responsibilty it was not our product, it came from China, and no one fesses up to the responsibility of the damage that it created to the housing market or the homeowners who got taken by this foreign entity or Government who produced it. Yes foreign Government, who owned the mines who owned some of the factories which produced this Toxic nightmare, that Government agencies slow reaction let it fester in the market place for countless years. So on an election year please think long and hard in voting for those politicians who won’t fess up to the Chinese Drywall Diaster and look at past records of those who have very strong ties to their own self serving interests and not to the best interests of the American Consumer.

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