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Draft rule set to limit packaging
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Products with more than three layers of packaging or those that occupy less than 45 percent of package space will be banned if a draft regulation is passed as law.

Such products can neither be produced nor sold in the country, says the draft, put up for public hearing yesterday.

The packaging cost should not exceed 15 percent of the product's price, says the draft, prepared jointly by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and the National Development and Reform Commission, the nation's highest planning body.

"The regulation will apply to all goods produced and sold in the country and the imported ones, too", Liu Zhaobin, director of the AQSIQ's laws and regulation department, said at the public hearing.

People and firms that make or sell such products face fines of up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,300). To ensure that producers and retailers do not get away with violations, the draft makes it mandatory for all producers to maitain records for packaging of their products.

The draft will be submitted to the State Council, the country's cabinet, soon, Liu said.

It is part of the State Council's legislative agenda this year. But before that, it is necessary to hear what the public has to say about it.

The move is aimed at "saving resources, protecting the environment and rights and interests of consumers", he said.

"Excessive or luxury packaging is becoming an increasingly serious business causing huge loss of resources".

At least one-third of the about 280 billion yuan (US$41 billion) worth of packaging material that Chinese people throw away every year is considered excessive, Liu said.

Di Jiankai, director of the Ministry of Commerce's commercial services administration department, said such packages and wrappers make up half of the volume of solid rubbish in cities. And its percentage has been increasing at an alarming 10 percent a year.

Liu specially referred to the Mid-Autumn Festival delicacy, moon cakes, saying they are among the most excessively packaged products.

Three years ago, media reports highlighted two extreme cases: a box of moon cakes containing a gold Buddha figurine, worth 180,000 yuan (US$26,000), and another box that had the key to a new apartment, worth 310,000 yuan (US$45,000).

Almost all the 48 attendees at yesterday's public hearing, representing producers, whole-sellers and retailers, packaging companies, industry associations and consumers, supported a regulation to curb excessive packaging. But many of them voiced concern over whether one rule should apply to all products.

"We make medicines. Pills are usually very small compared to the box or the wrapper. It's almost impossible to make them take up more than 45 percent of the package space," Pang Haichao, manager of drug company Tongrentang's package department, said.

Chi Xiangdong, vice-general manager of Daoxiangcun, a designated food producer for the Beijing Olympics, said the stipulation on cost control might push up the retail price of certain products.

"For example, we have a food plate selling for 25 yuan. According to the new regulation, the packaging cost should not exceed 3.75 yuan. But our estimate shows the simplest packaging would cost at least 4 yuan. So we will have no other choice but to raise the price if the rule is passed," he said.

"That is why it is better not to have a general stipulation for all products," said Adele Wang, business and government affairs manager of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.

"Instead, we should have different requirements for different industries."

She said it might be difficult for Chinese importers to check the packaging prices of foreign producers because they could be considered commercial secrets.

But consumer representatives insisted that it was necessary for the regulation to have detailed stipulations.

(China Daily September 10, 2008)

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