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While “Made in the USA” conjures up patriotic pride, “Made in China” has come to generate sadness, resentment, anger and fear. And with good reason. For not only have cheap Chinese-made goods shredded U.S. manufacturing into the industrial graveyard, they are leaving behind a bloody wake as they chew this country alive. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are more than 33 million injuries, and about 29,000 deaths, each year from consumer products. This costs the United States more than $700 billion in damages each year. Now consider that more than 60% of all recalled products in the United States are “Made in China.” The recall of Mattel’s 21 million toys, for example, was due to Chinese supplier issues. Earlier this month, Aqua Dots (connectable beads, which look remarkably like candy bits) were found to be laced with chemicals that, when placed in a child’s mouth, metabolize into the “date rape” drug GHB. But the true tally of death and destruction is far higher: Perhaps 97% of all dangerously defective products are either made in China or made elsewhere, but dangerously defective due to a Chinese-made element or component. A random sampling of recent recalls yields a terrifying list of Chinese-produced hazards, including fire-inducing Christmas lights, chemical-laced clothing (causing sinus, lung, skin and brain damage), toxic candles and jewelry, flaming boom boxes, razor blades in children’s stationery, chain saws that break apart, cracked gas valves and oil lines (causing severe burns, crashes), bikes that collapse while riding, highly flammable baby clothes, collapsing deck chairs (causing finger amputations) and toy eyeballs made with kerosene. On the food side (regulated by the Food and Drug Administration), the United States has been hit with everything from poison toothpaste and carcinogenic dyes on dried fruit to pesticide-laden peas. If you’re sufficiently horrified at this information, now realize that the United States seems to be doing nothing of any real substance to protect its citizens from this assault. We inspect less than 1% of Chinese-made goods imported into our country, and the CPSC meets monthly with China’s equivalent agency to discuss product safety. Wow. The Chinese promise to cooperate. Ha! I’m reminded of their “Golden Sample” rule: Produce a perfect sample, with the highest-quality materials, to land a U.S. contract. But once the U.S. manufacturer is on the hook, the “Golden Sample” is suddenly transformed into garbage. The old “bait and switch.” High-quality materials are switched to low-quality substitutes. Electronics are swapped out with cheaper models, creating fire hazards. So why is the United States such a weakling in the face of such a brutal, ongoing assault? Why don’t we simply block the importation of all Chinese products? Politics. Many argue that it is “not in America’s interest” to erect a trade barricade; doing so, some say, could spark a harmful “trade war.” But it goes deeper: There is simply too much big-money interest in keeping such trade wide open. Blaming agency is misguided Meanwhile, the CPSC has been crippled. Its staff has been cut in half. Funding has been slashed to a mere $63 million. To top it all off, acting Chair Nancy Nord is made the scapegoat, lambasted in the press for failing to use the agency’s power to protect consumers. Problem is, the agency is legally impotent. Having been left with only two commissioners (instead of five or three for a needed quorum), the agency doesn’t even have the legal power to file a lawsuit. So when the manufacturer of the Meerkat, a deadly child-sized all-terrain vehicle made in China, refused to recall the product, the CPSC merely issued a warning letter. No lawsuit. No injunctions. Nothing. Is it any wonder the Chinese have no fear of the U.S. government? The CPSC is now under a firestorm of congressional debate, and several bills have been proposed to reform it. While the focus has been on drastically increasing fines (from the current $1,825,000 cap to $100 million, or to no cap) and giving enforcement power to state attorneys general, the proposed bills do very little to protect U.S. consumers against Chinese products. Inexplicably, for example, the bills would ban exports of recalled products, but would not ban imports of recalled products! The CPSC doesn’t need a $100 million sledgehammer or for state AGs to usurp the agency’s power. What it needs is sufficient funding and staff, and the legal power to swiftly remove dangerous products from the shelves and to punish repeat and willful offenders. So long as it is profitable for China to dump its toxic, hazardous junk into the American market, it will continue to do so. Thus, we need either to make it financially compelling for China to produce safe products or to simply block China altogether as a “clear and present danger” to our safety and welfare. Michael Baroni is general counsel for BSH Home Appliances Corp. in Huntington Beach, Calif. He is former chairman of the Orange County (Calif.) Bar Association’s section on products liability. The opinions expressed are solely his own.

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