On October 21 Inez Tenenbaum, Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), delivered a keynote address at the biennial product safety summit held between the United States and China. It marked the fourth time that CPSC and AQSIC (China’s national standards and inspections body) have met to enhance intergovernmental cooperation and to improve the efficacy of joint regulation.

The theme of this year’s summit, “promoting best practices by Chinese manufacturers and U.S. importers to maximize product safety”, underlies CPSC’s approach to create a partnership based on communication and mutual accountability. “We must work as global partners”, said Tenenbaum, “to create a systematic approach to ensuring product safety, from raw materials to the finished product, from the toy factory in Shanghai, to the toy importer in San Francisco, to the toy store in Seattle.”

Tenenbaum placed special on emphasis on toy safety (lead paint in particular), noting the “new paradigm for standards” that emerged with the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). She cited the stricter lead paint limits (90 ppm) and the mandatory child product testing program enacted under the new law.

There’s reason to believe that the American-Chinese relationship may bear fruit. According to Tenenbaum, toy recalls decreased from 80 to 40 per year between the 2008-2009 fiscal years. Of these, lead violations decreased from 40 to 16 per year during that time period. It also appears that AQSIC (China’s regulatory body) has become more determined in promoting and enforcing product safety. They’ve closed thousands of non-complying Chinese manufacturers, and have become more willing to exchange information and to promote America’s “best practices” throughout the manufacturing community.

But all of this is just the beginning. Tenenbaum reiterates the U.S. goal “to have no toy recalls and no lead paint violations,” and adds that “we are certainly moving in the right direction.”

Tenenbaum will continue her diplomatic efforts to bolster international cooperation this Wednesday in Toronto. There she will speak at the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization’s annual symposium and discuss ways that Canada and the U.S. can better harmonize product safety standards.

Update: View Chairman Tenenbaum’s ICPHSO address in Toronto.