No child’s play! Govt to harden crackdown on toy imports

Banikinkar Pattanayak

Soon, every toy will have to carry an identification number and the address of the manufacturer if a proposal being discussed by the government is finally approved. Importers may have to recall toys placed in the market or take swift remedial action, if the products don't conform to domestic quality standards.

Alarmed by the massive imports of sub-standard toys that pose huge risks for children, the commerce and industry ministry is not just favouring a sharp hike in import duties on them but also considering bringing in stringent standards through a quality control order.

The move comes after a report by the Quality Council of India (QCI) in November 2019 warned that as many as 67% of samples across 121 varieties of toys in prominent markets of Delhi had failed a basic quality test. The commerce ministry has already recommended to the revenue department that the basic customs duties on toys be raised five times from up to 20% now.

Over 85% of toys in India are imported, mainly from China, followed by Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The country's imports of toys and related items grew almost 8% to $646 million in 2018-19, although the purchases dropped 7.6% on year, up to November this fiscal to $403 million, partly due to stricter monitoring of inflows. Nevertheless, most of these sub-standard imported products still make their way into the local market, as they are cheaper, a senior government official told FE, citing representations from the domestic toy associations. A substandard Barbie doll imported from China, for instance, can be 50% (or more) cheaper than the one manufactured by a local company that conforms to quality standards.

A senior industry executive said the actual import value of toys will be much higher than the official estimate, as suppliers and importers often connive and resort to under-invoicing to pay less duty here.

Typically, the difference between the actual imported price of toys and the stated price are settled through hawala transactions, he adds. Smuggling from China, too, is rampant.

The QCI report has suggested that all importers, "before placing a toy in the market, shall ensure that the appropriate conformity assessment procedure has been carried out by the manufacturer and that the requirements as per Indian standards have been complied with". The importers have to indicate their name, registered trade name and their address on the toy itself and where that's not possible, these must be mentioned on its "packaging or in a document accompanying the toy".

"Importers who consider or have reasons to believe that a toy which they have placed on the market is not in conformity with the relevant requirements shall immediately take the corrective measures necessary to bring that toy into conformity, to withdraw it or recall it, if appropriate," says the report.
Moreover, where the toy presents a risk, importers will "immediately inform the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standard), giving details, in particular, of the non-compliance and of any corrective measures taken", it adds.

Importantly, the report suggests that an importer or distributor be considered a manufacturer and be subjected to obligations of manufacturers.

Already, imports of certain varieties of toys are allowed only if they are accompanies by a test report from the state-run National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories. Still, there are rampant violations of this requirement. This means mere stipulation of standards won't help; it has to be backed by enforcement.

The QCI's quality test found that 80% of the platic toy samples failed on mechanical and physical safety properties. As many as 75% of electronic toys fail on mechanical properties and 45% of soft toys failed on admissible levels of phthalates.