Regulatory oversight of imported products has not kept pace with the increased volume of foreign goods coming into the United States. That was the conclusion of a government panel which is studying ways to improve safety measures both at the U.S. border and in cooperation with foreign governments and manufacturers. The panel recommended preventing problems by “building safety into manufacturing and distribution, intervening when risks were identified and responding quickly after an unsafe product made its way into the country." The draft report also called for “improved information-sharing, promotion of technological innovation and development of ‘a culture of collaboration’ among regulatory agencies and with foreign governments.” The expert panel is comprised of Bush Administration cabinet officials who were directed to identify generic import safety problems made apparent by recent shipments of tainted food and defective products from China. The panel will continue to expand upon their draft recommendations in the coming months.
With respect to automotive issues, Nicole Nason, the Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), recently observed that a current tire recall confirmed that the NHTSA already has enormous authority to block unsafe imports and require recalls of items in the U.S. marketplace. Under federal law, importers of vehicles or equipment produced abroad are considered to be the “manufacturer” of that product. Manufacturers must self-certify that products covered by the NHTSA safety standards (lighting, brakes, tires, etc.) comply with agency rules. Administrator Nason noted that “manufacturers have a legal duty to report to the NHTSA that a vehicle or equipment does not comply with the NHTSA’s standards or when they learn that a vehicle or equipment contains a defect and determine that the defect is safety-related. The manufacturers also have the duty to conduct a recall by notifying owners of the problem and offering to remedy the defect or noncompliance by repairing or replacing the vehicle or equipment or refunding the purchase price.”
As a direct result of the recall, the NHTSA has entered into an agreement with China on rapidly sharing information when there are future investigations. The NHTSA may also ask Congress to pass legislation giving it the authority to impose product testing and recordkeeping requirements on importers and, possibly, to require recall insurance. For a copy of the draft report by the Import Safety Panel: http://www.importsafety.gov/report/index.html. For more information, contact Stuart Gosswein at firstname.lastname@example.org.