Friday, August 31, 2007

Import safety: what is Sen. Cornyn's position?

I responded to one of those Consumers’ Union e-mails about product and food safety and Chinese imports, asking you to sign their form letter and send it to your senators and representative. I’m rather upset that we have so underfunded the Consumer Product Safety Commission at a time when so many of our products are manufactured elsewhere. I have nothing against international trade. I’ve taken a few economics classes and I think it can be very beneficial to a country. However, when you’re talking about toys that my child plays with, you’d better make damn sure that they’re safe.

So I added some of my own thoughts about this to the Consumers’ Union form letter. I probably was not as respectful as I should have been to United States Senators, but I figured it would give their staff something to read other than the form letter. I’m not sure the staff really reads these at all. It seems more likely that they try to figure out what subject you’re writing about and then issue a form letter right back to you.

So I added my hot opinions about product safety and how upset I am that we seem to be putting international trade above the health of our children. One of my son’s favorite toys is still “on vacation” because of lead paint, so it’s personal.

Well, the response I received today from Sen. John Cornyn, R. TX, included the following paragraph:

As you know, the last decade has given rise to a strong, multinational trend toward free trade. Such historic agreements continue to bolster American competitiveness, enhance relationships between the United States and foreign governments, improve global economic conditions, and expand the market for American exports. These multinational agreements give American consumers greater choice as well as spur domestic economic growth by eliminating tariffs on American goods. However, as we continue to support our American workers and economy we must closely monitor trade practices that pose a threat to our nation’s supply chain. As China continues to industrialize, it is at a strategic crossroads. Although the United States welcomes a peaceful and prosperous China as a vital part of the global community, questions remain about the choices that Chinese leadership will make as China’s power and influence grow.

Other than stating at the outset of the letter that the Senator “share(s) my concerns regarding the safety of our food supply and consumer products that enter the U.S.,” there was no mention of oversight of consumer product safety inspections or beefing up enforcement against businesses that import this junk. Pretty much just concern that we don’t shut off that all important stream of international trade with China. There is a vague reference to monitoring Chinese "trade practices," but other than that I don't get much of a sense of protecting the American people. Just so we’re clear, the message I am getting is: I share your concern, but free trade is more important than our children’s health. Glad to know where the people stand in the pecking order. (Please tell me if you can decifer something else in the politico-speak above.)

Maybe I should not draw such conclusions from these form letters, but I don’t really have much choice but to try to interpret the correspondence I receive. Can it be that with all the news about Chinese imports Sen. Cornyn still doesn’t have a paragraph cobbled together about it? Maybe I will follow up with him and ask if that is the impression he intended to give. Maybe that will get me a better answer. But a note to the senator: I do not wish to be lectured about the benefits of free trade. I would like to know what you plan to do about the safety of our imports!

Surely he doesn’t expect the free markets to fix this by punishing the firms who ship poison into our borders, at the cost of American lives, does he?

Just so I don’t end the week on a downer: happy Labor Day weekend and enjoy the start of the football season!

Until next week, I remain your humble servant,

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