Headline – “China burns U.S. consumers again”

Here’s an interesting editorial from the Idaho Mountain Express (4 Nov 09), sent to me by Julien Roger of China Quality Focus, which is short enough to quote in full.

In their headlong rush for global respectability as a hybrid Communist-free market power, mainland Chinese masters of the world’s largest population omitted a vital function required of great industrial countries: manufacturing quality control.

U.S. consumers have been burned repeatedly by inferior, even deadly, Chinese products—lead-painted toys, toxic pet food and sickening seafood products.

It’s happened again. Chinese-made drywall used in construction is being investigated as the source of illness among U.S. homeowners. The drywall literally stinks and may cost homeowners plenty to replace.

Hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop industries have appeared in the midst of China’s relaxed, free-enterprise attitudes. However, they’re mostly unregulated and have virtually no quality control.

U.S. companies that have swooned over less expensive goods have been importing these substandard products.

And during accelerated trade with China and the expansion of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government cut the budgets of two important watchdogs, the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. In one FDA program, only 1 percent of imported products were tested for quality and safety.

Two urgent actions are required.

First, Washington should beef up product health and safety inspections on all imports, but especially those from China.

Second, Congress should remove incentives for U.S. companies to rely on overseas vendors for products, while creating incentives to revive robust domestic manufacturing that restores jobs and strengthens the U.S. economy.

I shall refrain from addressing the tone of the piece, but to address the substantive points:

  • Yes, there are quality problems in China, as there have been in any developing industrial base throughout history. It is foolish to deny it, just as it is foolish to deny that there is defective cable supporting the Brooklyn Bridge. As was beautifully recounted in David McCullough’s The Great Bridge, the cable manufacturing company owned by the principle engineer, Washington Roebling, was eliminated from the project because of politically motivated charges of corruption part of the way through stringing the the suspension cables. Despite the fact the fact that the competitor was behind the accusations and was known to be a purveyor of shoddy goods, the bridge was finished with his cable, which Roebling later found to be as brittle as straw. Thus over 100 years later, New York commuters are still relying on Roebling’s good cable to carry the load of the charlatan’s defective cable. Quality problems are endemic to the human condition. Just examine the quality of the legislation oozing out of Washington 200+ years after the ratification of the Constitution. At least there is reasonable hope that China will get better, not worse as their industrial base matures.
  • Yes, defective products have made it to the USA, and some are truly and legitimately defective. But others are not, simply rejected by the hyper-sensitive inspection criteria made up by the inventors of the Wiffle Ball Life. Of the truly defective ones, some are defective due to the mendacity of individuals, but some are also defective because of poor vendor management and poor quality control regimes on the part of the customers. At PassageMaker and China Quality Focus see this everyday, clients whose drawings specify no materials, who require no international standards to be met, and who often don’t even include critical dimensions on the drawings. They expect the Chinese factories to do ALL the heavy lifting while complaining constantly about price and lead-times.
  • “Hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pops” appear in a “free-enterprise” environment?Would that it were so here in the USA.
  • US manufacturers like me were driven to source in Mexico, in Eastern Europe, in Asia, by corporate buyers. It didn’t happen by accident. When you are explicitly told to outsource or lose the business, what do you expect?
  • Even if the author is correct about the budgets on the federal agencies (which I doubt, as nothing in Washington ever actually gets cut), I make a point of counting on the government for a little as possible in my life. The burden should rest on the producer and the importer, and in reality it already does.

As to the solutions offered:

  1. As stated above, I don’t count on the government for much, but we’ve got 17.5% effective unemployment and hundreds of billions of dollars borrowed from the Chinese sloshing around DC paying off one favored group after another. I imagine some could be applied to this worthy cause. Someone should get right on that. Maybe write an editorial about it.
  2. What incentives to outsource? I’ve been in American manufacturing all my life, and in my experience, our decision to start outsourcing over two decades ago was driven by market conditions and the direct orders of corporate buyers. We outsourced what made sense and retained our manufacturing capacity for those parts that were best made in the USA. For that “patriotic” decision I have never seen a representative from ANY government agency do anything but deliver a bill. I have nothing but utter contempt for the regulatory and tax authorities in this country, and anyone who thinks there is a single human being in Washington who knows how to “create” a manufacturing job is sadly mistaken.

The real solution to America’s manufacturing situation has to do with demographics, labor laws, regulations and taxes, and I’ve had enough of discussing it for a lifetime. Take it away, Jon Stewart (Not Safe For Work)!

However, there are simple and effective ways to ensure the quality of the products you source in China, and that is precisely what PassageMaker and China Quality Focus exist to help clients do. It is on the buyer’s shoulders to specify the criteria for the product, and it is the buyer who is responsible for establishing a quality control regime to make sure the criteria are met. Contact us and we’ll be happy to show you how it’s done.

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