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Watchdog prowls online markets

Zhou Wenting
Updated: Mar 15,2017 6:43 AM     China Daily

Zhi Shuping, minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, speaks to reporters at the conclusion of a news conference in Beijing on March 14 about efforts to ensure consumers receive high-quality products when they make purchases. The conference was held during the annual session of the 12th National People’s Congress.[Photo/China Daily]

More than 30 percent of goods sold over the internet in China were found to be substandard last year, three times the proportion of products sold offline, Zhi Shuping, head of the country’s top quality watchdog, said on March 14.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine examined nearly 7,000 sample groups of goods sold online and more than 2,100 failed quality standards and were ordered to be removed from sale, Zhi said during a news conference on the sidelines of the annual two sessions.

In brick-and-mortar stores, more than 90 percent of goods have passed inspection for the past three years, he said.

One of the top priorities of the watchdog in recent years has been the quality of goods sold online, in part because such vendors often don’t have storefronts and can be virtually anywhere. That circumstance can be exploited by some merchants to sell fake or low-quality products.

It’s also because the number of online shoppers is surging, Zhi said. Their ranks had swelled to 374 million in mid-2015, according to the latest figures from the China Internet Network Information Center.

“Since last year, we’ve allowed seven major e-commerce players, including Alibaba’s Taobao and, to have access to our database of products that have obtained a China Compulsory Certification,” Zhi said. That allows them to check whether products required to have the certification before sale actually have it, he said.

Such products include home electrical appliances, home decoration materials, personal care products and kitchen appliances.

Taobao said they began a thorough screening in June, starting with child safety seats for use in vehicles. “Hundreds of thousands of products without the compulsory certification were removed from our platform,” Alibaba said in a written statement.

In August, the screening expanded to all 34 product categories that need the certification.

“Nearly 200,000 products that hadn’t obtained certification were intercepted before entering our online market every day,” Alibaba said.

Taobao also forwarded information on those products and their sellers to the quality watchdog, officials said.

Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and chairman, suggested cracking down on the manufacturing and sale of fake products in the same way drunken driving is punished.

“I believe tremendous changes will be witnessed in intellectual property protection and food and drug safety in our country if those who sell a fake product are detained for seven days and those who manufacture such a product receive criminal punishment,” he wrote on his Sina Weibo account on March 7.

Zhi said the quality watchdog has also noticed that an increasing number of Chinese are buying from overseas merchants. The agency is mulling the best way to ensure the quality of those products, too.

“Currently, we treat them as articles for personal use and conduct tests only to detect harmful organisms and prevent epidemics,” Zhi said.

“If the market continues to grow, we may expand our reach into the cargo management area, which includes checking the qualifications for market access and quality supervision,” he said.