Bob Anderson is a veteran when it comes to trade with China.
A former Everett mayor, Anderson went on to become Gov. Dixy Lee Ray’s trade and economic development director in the late 1970s and joined her on one of the first trade trips to China, in which Ray served as an ambassador for then-President Richard Nixon.
Anderson was the founding president of the state’s China Relations Council and remains on the organization’s board and executive committee.
I called him late last week to get his take on all the tainted products coming from China that we’re hearing about these days. Since so many people in Snohomish County have business ties with China or would like to establish them, I thought Anderson might be able to offer some advice.
I first asked Anderson to tell me about that early trip to China. He said the officials there were very cordial, but there was no question his every move was watched. There were no hotels, so he was placed in a building where government guards were posted out front.
“Nobody made us feel uncomfortable, but you certainly knew you were being watched,” Anderson said. “You’d walk down the streets and there were millions of people watching you.”
Sometimes, as the late sportscaster Howard Cosell used to say, it got up close and personal.
“One morning I wanted to go for a run and I got on the street and all these people gathered around me,” Anderson recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, no.’ But all they wanted to do was to look at my Nike running shoes. They’d never seen anything like that before. Now they make them.”
They pretty much make everything these days in what Anderson calls a “tremendous dynamic and cultural explosion.”
Anderson said he believes that China’s manufacturers are basically pretty solid, but that the economic explosive has attracted some greedy and unscrupulous people he calls “bad apples.”
“My general perception is that (deliberately tainted products) aren’t very pervasive,” he said. “But bad apples have spoiled this. Most Chinese entrepreneurs will say that they’re in this to make money.”
His advice for working with manufacturers in China:
Know your supplier and his suppliers. “There’s a lot of the wild West over there and you have to know who’s at your back when you’re walking down Main Street. You’ve got to know who you’re dealing with,” Anderson said.
Identify specific materials.
Learn the process. Who do they hire? What’s the plan for quality control and inspections? “You’ve got to be sure if got a manufacturer or distributor over there they’re doing it right,” Anderson said. “There’s been a lapse in inspections and quality control.”
Anderson knows that the Boeing Co. has a lot of parts made in China and also places a lot of restrictions, controls and inspections on that work.
Insist on looking at a finished product. “You have to ask them to show you how it’s going to turn out.”
While reports continue to stream in about tainted products from China, Anderson is sure the government will fix things and do it relatively soon, if only to try to repair its name before the 2008 Olympics.
“What’s happening is there is both a political and an economic tightening up over these issues,” he said. “I think the Chinese will be certain to make sure they will get their act together.”
That said, even Anderson admits to looking more carefully at what he buys lately and to trying find out more about it.
“It has to give you pause,” he said of the many recalls of Chinese products. “But it isn’t only China. This integrated global economy has other cracks and fissures, too. Whether you’re getting shrimp from China or cheese from France, it has to be buyer beware. Life is still somewhat of a gamble.”
Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; email@example.com