Skip to main content

Chairman Inez Tenenbaum North America Summit, Opening Remarks

September 26, 2011

Good morning and welcome to the First North America Consumer Product Safety Summit.

Assistant Deputy Minister Geller and Director General Altamirano, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission is honored to host this inaugural summit and your delegations.

I want to thank you both for your commitment to collaboration and advancing the cause of consumerism.

I believe that great strides will be made during the next two days that will move our three agencies closer to achieving our collective vision—a vision centered on working together to improve product safety and the protection of consumers throughout our continent.

Here at CPSC, it has been nearly one year since we established a new strategic plan.

Our strategic plan has been guiding us through a much needed shift—a transformation to being proactive rather than reactive, and a renewed focus on injury prevention rather than injury reduction.

Positive change has come from the progressive regulatory approach that we have implemented at CPSC—change that has moved CPSC closer to achieving the ultimate vision of our strategic plan—to be the recognized global leader in consumer product safety.

This Summit is a prime example of CPSC working to be a global leader and a trusted partner in the region.

This Summit will facilitate discussion of trilateral initiatives and the development of an agenda for future engagement that reflects the shared product safety priorities of our three countries.

The increasing volume of world trade and the complexity of global supply chains—especially in China—require a proactive and preventive approach by CPSC, Health Canada, and Profeco to ensure that the consumer products in our markets are safe.

On our own continent, the North American Free Trade Agreement—best known as NAFTA—created the world's largest free trade area, linking 450 million people in the United States, Mexico, and Canada and producing $17 trillion worth of goods and services.

Total merchandise trade between the United States and its NAFTA partners grew from $293 billion in 1993 to $920 billion in 2010—a 214 percent increase.

Each day the United States conducts $2.5 billion in trade with Canada and Mexico.

To put this in perspective, this translates to nearly $10 million during the few minutes I have been speaking, and this does not include trade between Canada and Mexico.

Imports from Mexico and Canada accounted for the second and third largest shares, respectively, of imported consumer products likely to be under CPSC’s jurisdiction.

Mexico is actually the third largest supplier of toys for the U.S. market, behind China and Hong Kong. And Mexico is the second largest supplier of electrical products, accounting for about 25 percent of imports in that category.

Our Canadian friends and partners supply furniture, mattresses, school supplies, and other consumer products.

Products produced in North America or imported from outside our territories readily find their way into our countries through our extensive shared borders.

As neighbors, we share the benefits and the challenges of an increasingly interconnected market. As product safety officials, we can manage those challenges better through cooperation and mutual goals.

To the extent that product hazards are commonly understood and addressed by our agencies through improved coordination, we can better protect consumers in all three countries.

The core message that I hope will emerge from our Summit is this: our three countries can be more effective in protecting our consumers if we have a shared, coordinated approach to the common challenges facing our consumer product safety agencies.

During my time as Chairman, U.S. consumption of products made in Canada and Mexico has started to rebound.

My agency recognizes that NAFTA has facilitated a constant flow of consumer electronics, lithium batteries, textiles, and plastics from cities and towns throughout Mexico and Canada into the United States.

We also recognize that exporters based in other countries outside our region can ship consumer products to us through each other’s ports and will do so whenever they believe it is economical.

This is why my agency’s Office of International Programs has a special focus on product safety in North America and eagerly worked with Health Canada and Profeco staff to organize this Summit.

This Summit marks the beginning of a new way of doing business to benefit our consumers. Our consumer product safety agencies are making a conscious effort to recognize the interdependence of our consumer product markets.

Although CPSC is an independent regulator, our desire to host this Summit and to further trilateral cooperation is a demonstration of our support for the Obama Administration’s Regulatory Cooperation Council initiatives.

These are initiatives between the United States and Canada and the United States and Mexico.

The practical reason for supporting the work of the two Regulatory Cooperation Councils and working toward closer regulatory engagement is worth describing.


As consumer markets in the United States, Canada, and Mexico become more closely integrated, better coordination on product safety requirements, policies, and activities can help protect consumers in the United States. But cooperation helps us all.

To the extent that products are regulated in a harmonized manner and hazards managed to a similar high level of safety, consumers in all three countries may benefit.

So, where would I like to see progress?

There are five areas on which I would like us to focus:

  • increased collaboration with Mexican and Canadian authorities on market surveillance and enforcement programs;
  • better alignment of product safety requirements whenever safety can be enhanced;
  • In mid-July, we approved procedures that will require independent safety testing to the federal toy safety standard, commonly known as ASTM F963. During the toy scare of 2007 and 2008, parents repeatedly called for more rigorous testing and now their calls are being answered.
  • increased cooperation between our agencies to prevent unsafe products from reaching consumers, via seaports and land borders;
  • more coordinated recalls and other corrective actions with both of our North American partners; and
  • expanded training and capacity building efforts to ensure that safety is being built in at all levels of the supply and distribution chains.

On this last point, I’m proud of the steps that our staff has been taking recently.

For the first time this past August, we partnered with various Mexican agencies to deliver training and capacity building programs targeted at Mexican manufacturers and regulatory authorities.

We worked closely with the Mexican Embassy, the Ministry of Economy, with the Consumer Protection Federal Agency, Profeco and with ProMexico, the Mexican export promotion agency.

The two-day capacity building program was a great success, and we look forward to a continued partnership with our government colleagues in Mexico and Canada to deliver programs that can help industry and governments better understand our safety requirements.

On regulatory harmonization activities, the CPSC and Health Canada staff collaborate frequently, exchanging technical information on a variety of product areas and working side by side on technical committees of various standard developing organizations. For example, CPSC performed joint testing with Health Canada on several children’s products in an effort to develop and harmonize proposed ASTM standards on inclined sleep surfaces and bedside sleepers.

We have been collaborating on inclined sleep surfaces, bedside sleepers, and on crib standards, and we are identifying opportunities to collaborate in other children’s product areas.

I would like to return for a moment to the issue of import safety.

I believe the level of safety provided to the market place will be greater if more violative products can be screened and stopped before exportation.

Increased cooperation among our agencies will increase our chances of preventing toys with small parts or hazardous counterfeit batteries from reaching the hands of American consumers.

Last year, our agency determined that more than 55 percent of the products that we sampled at United States ports were violative or dangerous to consumers.

2010 turned out to be a record year at CPSC for samples collected and samples found to be violative.

This was no accident. CPSC is committing more resources and more sophisticated technologies to our import surveillance effort.

The reason I am emphasizing this message is to make sure all of you know that CPSC is getting better at catching the violative imports, so that the compliant ones can flow through the system faster.

The transnational impact of NAFTA expanded trucking into the United States, and as a result, there is the potential for an increase in violative goods heading north and south by land, rather than by sea.

We do not want to hold up trade. But we want trade and safety to be interconnected.

When that truck carrying a shipment of children’s sleepwear or toys reaches a U.S. checkpoint, we want trade and safety to come together to help keep that shipment moving to its retail destination.

As Chairman of the CPSC, my vision is to foster cooperative relationships with foreign manufacturers, stakeholders, and regulators.

A relationship based on a common understanding that the more proactive we are, the more likely we are to prevent injuries to consumers using imported products.

I believe we can achieve this vision if manufacturers build products to the latest safety standards and if regulators can continue to converge on the best and safest standards.

If regulatory partners like Health Canada and Profeco join CPSC in identifying unsafe products that may have been exported to the United States, we can be more effective in its interdiction efforts at our ports.

This is an approach that you will hear more about and learn more about during the course of this Summit.

In closing, I would like to express my gratitude to the leadership and staff of the product safety agencies in Canada and Mexico, along with the panelists and keynote speakers who accepted our invitation to participate in the Summit.

I also would like to thank other participating stakeholders and all of the attendees for helping to make this a productive and successful event.

Report an unsafe product