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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 June 2007, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Chinese tyre row escalates in US
Container ship
The amount and quality of Chinese imports is a hot political issue
A Chinese tyre firm has defended its safety record after US regulators ordered a major recall of its goods and it was sued by one of its customers.

Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber said it had not found any deficiencies after US firm Foreign Tire Sales (FTS) was instructed to recall 450,000 of its truck tyres.

The New Jersey firm sued Zhongce last month, saying it had stopped buying van and truck tyres due to safety worries.

Chinese imports have been the subject of a series of recent safety scares.

Safety standards

A leading Senator has accused Chinese firms of failing to adhere to proper safety standards following high-profile problems with goods ranging from pet food to toothpaste.

FTS has said it cannot be sure how many tyres are potentially defective, although it has estimated the figure to be about 450,000.

It has warned that a full product recall could force it into bankruptcy, adding that it believes at least six other US firms have imported the model in question.

China has been asleep at the switch when it comes to safety inspections
US Senator Charles Schumer

Transport regulators have dismissed its request for financial assistance, arguing that the US importer must bear some of the responsibility for the state of the tyres it sells.

The New Jersey firm sparked the alert after it found a number of light truck tyres imported since 2002 lacked a basic safety feature.

Tests conducted over the past year, it said, found that the model in question may fail earlier than those previously provided.

"At some point in time, unbeknownst to FTS, Zhongce unilaterally changed the construction of the subject tyres," it said in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It is pursuing its Chinese supplier for damages and is seeking an injunction to block any further imports.

FTS is being sued by relatives of two men killed last year in a crash involving a vehicle said to have used Zhongce tires.

'No faults'

But the Chinese firm cast doubt on the validity of the recall, saying it had "not found the faults cited by FTS".

It added that none of its other US customers had expressed concerns about the reliability of its products.

The US imports more than 30 million tyres from Chinese producers, which are highly competitive due to their low labour costs.

The standard of Chinese imports to the US have come under the spotlight in recent months after chemical scares prompted a succession of product recalls.

"China has been asleep at the switch when it comes to safety inspections," said Charles Schumer, Democrat Senator for New York.

A political backlash against the spiralling US trade deficit with China has led to calls for tighter controls on imports.

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