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EU says: outcry against Chinese goods isn't political

China's claim that measures designed to bar its goods from the European Union are politically motivated is „totally false,” EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said as tensions over tainted Chinese exports grow.

Last week, the 27-nation EU demanded greater vigilance from producers and national authorities after Mattel Inc. recalled Chinese toys, including some the European Commission said could prove fatal, for the second time in two weeks. China supplies 80% of the world's toy market. China has defended the quality of its exports. Yesterday, state television began a series of programs aimed at defending the country's reputation as a safe manufacturer.

Among the toys recalled by Mattel were 83 Nickelodeon and Sesame Street products made by a contract manufacturer in China, said the commission, the EU's trade authority. The toys were sold in 11 EU countries - Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK - as well as in Croatia and Switzerland. Trade between the EU and China was worth about €254 billion ($342 billion) last year, according to Eurostat, the bloc's statistics office. China is the EU's second-largest trade partner and in 2006 displaced the US as the main source of EU imports.

The first featured the head of a quality watchdog, who criticized the recent furor over the quality of exports as „demonizing China's products” and called the complaints „a new trend in trade protectionism,” the Associated Press reported. Mandelson denied that charge today, saying „the allegation that European companies' action against toxic Chinese goods is politically motivated and shows bias against China is totally false. As trade commissioner, I will not accept claims of toxicity being used as a pretext for protectionism.”

China faces growing pressure to ensure the safety of its exports because of discoveries of high levels of chemicals and poisons in Chinese products around the world. Ties between the EU and China have become strained as European producers grow more fearful about being undercut by cheap Chinese goods. They have pressed Mandelson to impose trade sanctions on China and challenge the Asian nation at the World Trade Organization.

„This is not a question of trade, but of health,” Mandelson said in today's statement from Brussels. „If some in China want to create the pretext for retaliatory action, the EU will contest this in the strongest terms.” More than 99% of food exports from China are safe, the information office of China's Cabinet said last week, though it conceded that small producers were defying safety standards to maximize growth. As many as 30% of small producers failed to meet quality standards last year, according to the August 17 report. The government forced 8,814 producers to shut, took action against 5,631 and forced 5,385 companies to improve their production, the report said.

Hamley's Plc, the UK's biggest toy store, removed items of children's jewelry from its shelves two days ago because a bracelet and necklace contained levels of lead that could cause brain damage and even kill youngsters. Tests on 24 samples of toy jewelry bought in various stores in London and Birmingham, including Hamley's, found that eight contained lead, an investigation by the Sunday Times newspaper showed. „I will give firm backing to European companies having to reject goods that are dangerous to consumers, including young children,” Mandelson said.