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Trade News

Each day TFO Canada publishes a sample of trade news on the Canadian import market along with any new, updated or changed regulations and legislations regarding international trade; countries in which TFO Canada offers services and on the export sectors which it promotes.

 

Consumer Protection Won't 'Go Too Far' and Slow Down Imports, Clement Says

Friday, April 25, 2008 > 10:53:48
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(SOURCE: Canwest News Service – Sarah Schmidt  via i.e Canada Daily news email - )

Health Minister Tony Clement Tuesday tried to assure jittery importers not to worry about the government's proposed consumer-protection law, saying it will be business as usual at the border.

Speaking to members of the [I.E.Canada] Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters in Mississauga, Ont., he said, "going too far would result in cumbersome, border-clogging, investment-choking regulation that would reduce Canada's access to those new, innovative products that are being created around the world."

"I'm here to say that border clearance will not be affected by this bill at all. Inspections will continue being done as they are now – according to a strategic risk assessment approach administered by the Canada Border Services Agency."

The system allows border officials to target higher risk products flagged by government agencies, including Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, based on past violations.

The proposed legislation, to be debated in Parliament next week, includes an unprecedented blanket ban on the importation and sale of consumer products that pose a danger to human health or safety.

Penny Bonner, senior partner at the law firm Ogilvy Renault and a specialist in product recalls and government enforcement actions, said Clement's message to business leaders suggests the government realizes the proposed legislation overreaches.

"I'm taking a positive interpretation of that message – that perhaps they were much more far-reaching than they intended to be. There are lots of opportunities for amendments to restrict the legislation to give assurances to retailers that they don't have to test the safety of every product before they put it on their shelves."

But despite Clement's reassuring words, Bonner said some of her corporate clients still have much to worry about.

If passed in its current form, manufacturers, importers and retailers will have to report any incidents or defects – including "near-misses" – to the minister within two days, if there is a reasonable expectation of serious adverse effects on consumer health or safety. Bonner, based in Montreal, said these timelines are unworkable.

"What's more of a concern are the powers granted to inspectors," Bonner added. She said inspections can be conducted without reasonable grounds, while stop-sale orders can only be appealed to the minister. "We do need good consumer protection legislation, but we think we need to do it properly," she said.

Jack Smith, president of the Canada Safety Council, said Clement's message to importers is a "little disingenuous." "He's talking about inspections as they've always been done, but he's also talked about stepping up inspections. If it's not going to be at the border, where is it?" said Smith.

When Clement unveiled the new legislation a few weeks ago, he acknowledged having only 40 inspectors at Health Canada's consumer-safety branch is "unacceptable."

Smith pointed out toxic toys cross the border under the current strategic risk assessment approach at Canada Border Services Agency.

So far, Health Canada has announced 25 voluntary recalls of children's products this year – including Hillbilly Teeth, recalled on Tuesday for illegal levels of lead in the surface paint of the teeth. The product, manufactured in China, was on the market in Canada between March, 2005 and March, 2008.

Results from Health Canada's product-safety laboratory show how common it is for dangerous products to slip across the border. In the last two years, the targeted testing of 205 samples of suspicious children's jewelry pieces identified 120 illegal products. The most egregious case was a jewelry item containing 92%, suggesting the jewelry was made from lead-acid batteries for cars and other lead scraps.

 
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