Move over Charlie-in-the-Box. The Island of Misfit Toys is about to get crowded. Reacting to a slew of toy recalls over the last year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is deploying safety inspectors to screen incoming shipments at the Port of Long Beach. In addition to the millions of toys that arrive at the port, inspectors will monitor cigarette lighters, clothing, and a host of other consumer goods.
The surveillance will include testing selected products for unsafe levels of lead, loose parts that pose a choking risk, faulty wiring in electrical components, and other potential hazards. Inspectors have the authority to hold or turn back shipments they believe are hazardous, according to the CPSC. Following the rollout at Long Beach, the program will be expanded to other ports as the agency's resources allow.
The initiative follows last fall's recall of millions of toys—mostly from China—because of lead paint or other hazards. One such recall by Fisher Price involved nearly 1 million toys, including plastic figures of the popular Big Bird and Elmo characters, because the paint used by the Chinese manufacturer contained excessive amounts of lead.
They're in the game
Although the new inspections add another layer of oversight and complexity to the import process, many importers support the program.Members of the toy industry, in fact, helped to draft the new screening initiative, says Barry O'Brien, director of global trade and customs for game and toy maker Hasbro. The additional inspections are unlikely to be an issue for Hasbro, O'Brien believes. "We are in favor of all this," he says. "We have very high standards and we were never part of any safety recalls or violations, so our company accepts what the law is going to entail."
In fact, U.S. importers that implement strong customs compliance controls should be able to avoid many of the CPSC inspections, says O'Brien. The Importer Self-Assessment Program (ISA), for example, permits importers that meet stringent reporting and monitoring requirements to self-assess their customs compliance; members avoid most audits, thus reducing the risk of costly delays.
"If you are ISA-certified it helps you because the government knows who you are and your history of imports, so from a risk-targeting perspective you are considered lowrisk versus importers that have no prior history established," O'Brien says. To be ISA-certified, shippers also must participate in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), a government-industry program that helps shippers get products through customs more quickly by verifying that they have followed specified security procedures.
A little help from its friends
The CPSC will not have to go it alone. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will be assisting the consumer agency in its efforts to keep hazardous products from entering the country. With CBP's help, the consumer agency will be able to test more samples and conduct more port-of entry surveillance blitzes than it could on its own. CBP already has begun product testing at its labs, and CPSC will continue to take advantage of CBP's ability to identify product hazards and violations.
CPSC also is using CBP's import tracking system, the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). This will expose many potential problems sooner and give CPSC more time and information to respond before dangerous products reach U.S. shores, CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord said when announcing the surveillance initiative.
O'Brien expects that inspectors eventually will be able to flag problematic shipments at the port of origin, or at the very least while the containers are at sea, making the inspection process easier once shipping containers arrive in the United States. Doing so, he hopes, will minimize the new safety inspections' impact on international trade.