India, China Butt Heads on Indian Toy Import Ban

12 February 2009

Indian trade minister Kamal Nath says his country is willing to meet with China to discuss its temporary ban on Chinese toy imports. The recently announced import freeze has provoked an outcry from Chinese manufacturers and public officials, who say the ban is unfounded.

"We are open to any discussions on this matter and until the government of India is satisfied we will not be able to lift this ban," Nath told journalists on Tuesday.

"Certainly we will satisfy them for the reasons for which we have taken this step," he added.

Last month, New Delhi issued a six-month ban on imports of Chinese toys to serve "the public interest." No further explanation was provided. 

But Nath insisted Tuesday that the import ban is compliant with international trade rules and that the measure was taken to ensure public health and safety.

Chinese manufacturers responded strongly on Wednesday, insisting on the soundness of their products and calling for an immediate end to India's import freeze.

"The abrupt ban has caught Chinese toy makers and exporters, as well as Indian importers, off guard and would inflict heavy losses upon everyone involved," the toy chapter of the China Chamber of Commerce said.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce was similarly irked by the move.

"The Chinese government expresses serious concern that the Indian side has imposed...import restrictions in such a short time period," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

"China hopes that in a period during which the world economy faces grim challenges, India takes cautious and prudent trade remedy measures, otherwise bilateral trade relations could be seriously impacted," the statement said.

The government-run China Daily reported that Beijing may ask the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body to consider whether the Indian ban violates world trade rules, according to AFP.

Several Chinese products have come under fire recently for failing to meet health and safety standards. Last year, Chinese milk products contaminated with the chemical melamine sickened thousands and killed at least six children.

In 2007, high levels of lead paint in Chinese-made products prompted toymaker Mattel to recall more than 21 million toys.

India's toy industry has long struggled to compete with Chinese imports, which now account for 60 percent of the Indian market.

ICTSD reporting; "India says open to talks with China on toy ban," REUTERS, 10 February 2009; "China's industrial association strongly dissatisfied by Indian toy ban," XINHUA, 11 February 2009; "China expresses ‘serious concern' over toy ban, other Indian moves," AFP, 10 February 2009.

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