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5.10.09


The government on Wednesday put quality restrictions on mobile phones, dairy products and toys in a measure aimed mainly to block
their imports from China and which may trigger another round of wrangling at the WTO between two of Asia's biggest economies.

The Directorate-General of Foreign Trade said mobile handsets without the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, which helps authorities to track the sale and use of the phones, cannot be imported from now on. An estimated eight lakh such phones come into the country every month from China. These are unbranded and cost a lot less than the branded variety.

Security agencies had raised concern over the use of these phones, many of which, they said, were being used by terrorists to set off bombs and communicate among themselves. Since these sets do not have the 15-digit IMEI number, or cloned numbers, the authorities find it difficult to track the sale or usage. Approximately 30 million such phones are in use at present.

On June 11, TOI had first reported that import of such phones was yet to be banned as neither the home ministry nor the telecom industry had written to the commerce ministry on the issue.

The DGFT also banned till January 2010 the import of toys that do not meet international safety standards and norms. This move too will hit imports of toys mainly from China and several other countries. India had blocked import of toys from China in January on health grounds, after concerns over their safety were raised in developed markets. But the restriction was eased later after Beijing questioned the restrictions on the ground that New Delhi did not put such curbs on toys from other countries.

The ban, however, will not be applicable to toys that come with a certificate from laboratories accredited to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC). The volume-driven, price-competitive Chinese toys are estimated to have a 70% share in the global toy market. The domestic market is estimated at Rs 2,500 crore.

Import of milk and milk products were banned earlier in September last year to ward off entry of these items, contaminated with deadly whitener. The ban was to expire on June 24. Melamine, used for making plastics and fertiliser, was found in infant milk and other dairy products of several Chinese firms. The dangerous chemical can cause kidney stones as well as failure of the organ.

More than a dozen countries in Asia and Africa had also banned milk and dairy product imports from China, while several others had recalled the products suspected to be contaminated. India, world's largest milk producer, does not import milk products from China. The ban is being seen as a preventive measure.

Meanwhile, the government has asked its missions in the African region to step up vigil against bootlegged drugs being sent to those markets with fake `Made in India' tag. The commerce department last week lodged a complaint with the Chinese embassy here and the Indian embassy in Beijing and sought action against the impostors.

The Indian action comes after Nigeria's pharma regulator reported the detention of a large consignment of fake drugs for treating malaria. The consignment carried `Made in India' labels but was produced in China. A laboratory test of a recent consignment of anti-malaria drugs Maloxine and Amalar tablets proved these were fake. Had the drugs flowed into the market, about 642,000 lives would have been affected.

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