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Letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Susan Schwab


Location: Washington, DC

Obama: U.S. Must Protect Children From Lead, Safeguard Imported Toys

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Susan Schwab, about the large number of lead-tainted toys manufactured in China that have been subject to federal government recalls. In the letter, Obama requests information as to whether the USTR has raised concerns about these toys with the Chinese government. Last week Obama called on the Toy Industry Association to provide insight as to how American companies are attempting to regulate foreign supply chains. And in July, he called on the Senate Commerce Committee to pass his Lead Free Toys Act of 2007 (S. 1306), which would protect our children from products containing lead. Obama originally introduced this legislation in November 2005.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Ambassador Schwab:

I am writing to urge the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to take aggressive action to protect America's children from toys containing harmful levels of lead that are imported from China. This is a serious issue that compromises the health of children throughout the country.

While lead paint has been banned in the United States since 1978, nearly half a million children continue to suffer from lead poisoning. Lead is a highly toxic substance that can produce a range of health problems in young children including IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity, and damage to the kidneys, brain and bone marrow. Though the most common source of lead exposure is from lead paint in older homes, children are exposed to lead in other ways, including through the toys they play with in their homes, playgrounds, and schools.

As you are no doubt aware, in recent months, there have been a number of high-profile recalls of children's products manufactured in China:

* In March 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced three separate recalls of 108,600 units of children's necklaces and 128,700 "Elite Operations" toy sets due to high lead paint content.

* In April, 4 million "Groovy Grabber" bracelets and 396,000 metal key chains were recalled because of high lead content.

* In May, 103,000 pieces of metal jewelry marketed in conjunction with "High School Musical" were recalled because of high lead content.

* In June, the RC2 Corporation recalled 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden toy railway sets that were coated with excessive levels of lead paint.

* Two weeks ago, Mattel announced the recall of 83 types of toys worldwide because the paint in the toys contained excessive amounts of lead. This worldwide recall involved almost 1 million plastic preschool toys, including the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters.

* And just today, Mattel announced the recall of 253,000 toy jeeps featuring the Sarge character from the movie "Cars."

Since we first learned about the dangers of these products, the CPSC has taken steps to remove these toys from store shelves. But recent product recalls raise a larger question about whether our government should take proactive steps to prevent the importation of potentially dangerous children's products, particularly toys manufactured in China.

In 2006, China was the largest importer of toys, dolls, and games to the American marketplace. These imports total $14.6 billion and account for 86% of total U.S. imports of toys, dolls, and games. Although most of these toys are safe, recent events suggest that a number of Chinese manufacturers are cutting corners and using cheap and illegal substitutes such as lead paint. The resulting lower prices of many foreign-made toys are attractive, especially to low-income families, who, along with the rest of our citizens, trust that products imported into the United States undergo a thorough inspection. Unfortunately, it appears that their trust may be misplaced.

If we have an opportunity to protect our nation's most vulnerable population - our children - from harmful toxins, we should do so, and a good place to start is safeguarding their toys. Since the USTR is responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade policy and overseeing negotiations with other countries, I am interested in learning the following:

* Given the large number of toys imported from China with high lead levels, has USTR raised concerns about this issue with the Chinese government? If so, what is the response of the Chinese government to these concerns?
* If these concerns have not been raised with the Chinese government, does USTR intend to raise this issue in the near future?

I request that you respond to these questions by August 21, 2007. Thank you.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

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